There’s nothing worse than not being able to sleep. Whether you have difficulty going to sleep in the first place or routinely wake up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep, the end result is the same: stress, exhaustion, and sleepiness during the day.
Since the term “insomnia” is so commonplace, it can be easy to self-diagnose — after all, if you regularly have trouble sleeping, you must have insomnia and just stress. Right?
As it turns out, most people who think they have insomnia are actually suffering the effects of a sleep disorder. Recently, my clinic (Rowe Neurology Institute) recruited volunteers for some clinical studies relating to insomnia. As many as nine out of ten people who volunteered were disqualified after an initial test proved their sleeplessness resulted from disordered breathing, rather than actual insomnia. They didn’t need drugs to sleep, or antidepressants to help their mood, they needed treatment for their sleeping disorder.
I’m Exhausted. Why Knowing The Cause Matters
When speaking about sleep disorders vs. insomnia, the first question that I usually get is “why does it matter if I’m suffering from a sleep disorder or insomnia, if it amounts to the same thing?” My answer? The treatment for your nocturnal wakefulness will vary depending on whether or not you have insomnia or a sleep disorder. If you want to get a good night’s sleep, you have to know the real cause of what’s keeping you up.
Picture this. You have a hard time falling asleep, you wake up throughout the night, you constantly feel tired during the day. You decide you have insomnia and go to a Doctor for help. Your doctor, who isn’t aware of how common sleep disorders are, prescribes you with a sleeping aid. You see the light at the end of the tunnel, you think you finally have the fix to your sleeplessness. But alas, the sleeping pills don’t work. And now added to your exhaustion is the frustration of the treatment now working. This scenario is the unfortunate reality for too many patients that I see. The problem is not the sleeping pills, the problem is that the root cause of your sleeplessness is a sleep disorder, something that the sleeping pills will never fix.
I Get It. I Need to Know the Cause of my Sleeplessness. How do I do that?
The reason so many people confuse insomnia with sleep disorders it that these two conditions are so similar. So, how do we tell the difference?
The only real way to know for sure is to be evaluated and tested by a sleep specialist. Fortunately, this is an easy process.
If your sleeplessness lasts longer than three months, if you have increased movements at night, and/or you do not wake up refreshed, it is a good idea to be evaluated by a sleep specialist. A sleep specialist can administer a study called a polysomnogram (PSG). This is a non-invasive test and is the fastest, most accurate means of testing for sleep disorders.
The PSG will not only determine what, if any, sleep disorder is present, but also give your physician a complete picture of your sleeping pattern. These results will enable them to treat the cause of your sleeplessness, not just reach for the script pad for a drug.