sleep foundation


The National Sleep Foundation

Medically Reviewed by

The National Sleep Foundation

Written by

The National Sleep Foundation

Doctors use a number of approaches to diagnose insomnia and understand a person’s unique symptoms. Some of these measures can be done at home, while others require an office visit or an appointment at a sleep clinic.

Here you’ll find information on when, where, and how to seek help if you have difficulty sleeping, as well as tips for talking to your doctor and a list of questions you may want to think about before your visit to be better prepared.

There are many ways to improve your sleep that involve psychological and behavioral steps. Cognitive behavioral treatments for insomnia (CBTi), relaxation techniques, and general sleep hygiene guidelines can help many people with sleep difficulties.

Diagnosing Insomnia

There is no definitive test for insomnia. Doctors use many different tools to diagnose and measure insomnia symptoms, some of which involve asking you questions in the office, having you fill out logs and questionnaires, performing certain blood tests, or doing an overnight sleep study. All of these tests help your doctor understand your personal experience with insomnia and create the right treatment plan.

Sleep log: A sleep log is a simple diary that keeps track of details about your sleep. In a sleep log, you’ll record details like your bedtime, wake up time, how sleepy you feel at various times during the day, and more. A sleep log can also help your doctor figure out what might be causing insomnia. 

Sleep inventory: A sleep inventory is an extensive questionnaire that gathers information about your personal health, medical history, and sleep patterns.

Blood tests: Your doctor may perform certain blood tests to rule out medical conditions such as thyroid problems, which can disrupt sleep in some people.

Sleep study: Your doctor may suggest that you do an overnight sleep study, or polysomnography, to gather information about your nighttime sleep. In this exam, you sleep overnight in a lab set up with a comfortable bed. During the exam you will be connected to an EEG, which monitors the stages of your sleep. A sleep study also measures things like oxygen levels, body movements, and heart and breathing patterns. A sleep study is a non-invasive test.

How to Talk to Your Doctor About Insomnia

You can talk to your doctor at one of your regular visits, or make a special appointment to go in and discuss your sleep. Many people think sleep troubles are just a normal part of life, but it’s important to take sleep as seriously as you would other aspects of your health. Sleep isn’t routinely addressed in annual well visits, so often patients are the ones to bring up the topic. You can ask your doctor if there is anything in your medical history that could indicate the cause of your sleep difficulty.

You may want to think about the following questions beforehand to get the most out of your conversation. You may even want to jot down notes to take with you:

  • Exactly what do your sleep difficulties look like: do you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or do you wake up too early? How many times a week do you have trouble sleeping like this?
  • What is your sleep schedule: what time do you go to bed, wake up, and nap during the day? (even short naps count)
  • Is your weekend sleep schedule different from your weekday schedule? Does your work schedule require you to adjust your sleep at all?
  • What do you do when you can’t sleep—get out of bed, read, watch TV, work on your laptop? Is there anything you’ve done in the past that has helped you sleep?
  • Do you lie awake feeling anxious or worrying about responsibilities and tasks?
  • What is your sleep environment like: Do you sleep alone or with a partner? Is your room dark and quiet? Is your bed comfortable? Do you have any sleep disruptions during the night, for example, young children in the house?
  • How long have you had trouble sleeping? Have you had trouble sleeping on and off for as long as you can remember, or is this a new issue?
  • Have you had any major changes (a move, a new job), or any stressful circumstances in your life recently (a breakup, financial troubles)?
  • Do you have any medical conditions?