Tests for Insomnia & Sleep Disorders

Updated: Jun 18, 2020


Insomnia and other disorders that interrupt sleep can be debilitating because of the impact they have on daily life. If you think you have a sleep disorder, you should visit a doctor, who will perform a series of sleep disorder tests in order to figure out what the problem might be. There are common types of sleep disorder tests that you are likely to encounter.

Tests for Insomnia & Sleep Disorders

Interviews for Medical, Sleep, and Family History

This is the most common test for sleep disorders, and it is sometimes enough to provide a diagnosis. For instance, it is the only insomnia test needed in many cases, since the main criteria for diagnosing insomnia is simply a severe interruption of sleep.

A medical history and family history are full of fairly standard information. Whenever you visit a new doctor, this is the information you are asked to present - about the state of your health and your past illnesses, along with information about your family and their past illnesses.

A sleep history is more unusual. A doctor will ask about problems you've had with sleep, such as how long this has been happening, what times you go to sleep and wake up, how many times you wake up during the night, and many other questions. It may be helpful to keep a sleep journal over a few weeks in preparation for your doctor's appointment.

Physical Exams

A doctor will also most likely perform a physical examination. This may be most useful for ruling out any specific conditions that may be causing your sleep trouble. However, for a condition like sleep apnea, a physical exam may reveal an enlarged uvula or soft palate that details your condition to the doctor.

Sleep Studies

 For a definitive diagnosis of conditions like sleep apnea and narcolepsy, a sleep study may be needed. These studies can be done to learn more about sleep disorders:


A polysomnogram is the typical idea that you probably have of a sleep study: you will spend the night in a sleep center, connected to wires that track your vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure, as well as brain activity and eye movements that reveal information about your sleep to your doctor. For sleep apnea, it also measures oxygen in your blood and air movement through your lungs.

Portable monitor

A home-based portable monitor is similar to a polysomnogram, but it can be done in your own home. This sleep test may be a way to figure out if you need a full polysomnogram, or it may produce results that allow an analyst to diagnose you without any other sleep studies.

Sleep latency test

For narcolepsy, it is common to need to take a multiple sleep latency test. During this test, you take 20-minute naps throughout the day at two hour intervals, and a machine records how long you take to fall asleep as well as what stages of sleep you reach during these naps.

Hypocretin test

Specific to narcolepsy, this sleep disorder test - which is actually done in a lab - measures a chemical called hypocretin in your body. Hypocretin promotes wakefulness in the body, and it is usually found in the fluid surrounding the spinal cord. For those suffering from narcolepsy, there will be lower levels of hypocretin. To test this, you will undergo a procedure called a spinal tap, where a doctor will insert a needle into your lower back to withdraw fluid from around the spine.

Diagnosing sleep disorders is the first step to improving your nightly sleep. Learn more about common sleep disorders and what foods to avoid in order to reduce the symptoms of your sleep disorder, and what test you should take to figure it out the cause of your health problem.

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