How to Tell if You Have a Sleep Disorder

Sleep disorders are rather common. Find out if you are suffering from one.

Expert Insights from Dr. Luis Javier Peña-Hernández, MD, FCCP, a lung health specialist at PCSI, the largest integrated pulmonary and chest specialty group in Palm Beach County.

Are you tossing and turning at night or overly sleepy during the day? Problems with sleep can be occasional or chronic. If symptoms last more than a month, you might want to know how to tell if you have a sleep disorder.

What is a Sleep Disorder?

A sleep disorder is defined as a group of symptoms related to sleep, or its effects, that can vary from person to person. There is no one specific definition of a sleep disorder because it can encompass a wide range of symptoms and present itself differently for different individuals.

Related: How sleep works

Sleep disorders come in a variety of types. Common ones include insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome. There are less common forms, for instance, shift-work sleep disorder, non-24-hour wake-sleep disorder, circadian rhythm disorder, hypersomnia, periodic limb movement disorder, and others.

Do I Have a Sleep Disorder?

Do people comment that you look tired? Are you irritable during the day? Do you snore? Do you have trouble concentrating at work? Have there been changes in your sleep routine? Are you depressed or overly emotional? Do you ever fall asleep while driving?

“You may wonder if you have a sleep disorder if you experience trouble sleeping well or sleeping too much. There are approximately 80 different types of sleep disorders, so the symptoms vary by conditions, but a common sign of a sleep disorder is any sort of disruption with your sleep schedule or stamina,” says Dr. Peña-Hernández.

Sleep Disorders can be caused by stress, illness, medications, or lifestyle. The following can all be signs of a sleep disorder.

  • Chronic Fatigue: Feeling tired, sleepy, or irritable during the day on a regular basis in spite of having had 7 or 8 hours of sleep.
  • Hard to Fall Asleep: It takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night.
  • Waking at Night: You wake during the night and then can’t get back to sleep. This can happen once or more frequently.
  • Change in Sleep Routine: You have started sleeping more or less than normal or waking in a different pattern.
  • Early Riser: You wake up earlier than you want to and can’t get back to sleep.
  • Loud Breathing: You snore or have episodes where you stop breathing and find yourself gasping for air.
  • Caffeine: You need caffeine or other stimulants to make it through the day.
  • Napping: You can’t make it all day without taking a nap.
  • Restless Legs: You have tingling or a need to move your legs, especially as you are going to sleep.
  • Trouble Concentrating: Your mind wanders or you have trouble attending to a task at home or at work.
  • Falling Asleep Unintentionally: You nod off when reading or watching television, or when driving.
  • Anxiety and Depression: You are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression without any obvious cognitive cause.

How to Tell (For Sure) if You Have a Sleep Disorder

All of the above-mentioned symptoms can be indicators of a sleep disorder. If you are experiencing one or more, where do you go next? There are a series of steps you can take to find out for sure if you have a sleep disorder.

Experts recommend starting with some self-assessment by record keeping, then taking an online assessment, then seeing your doctor and perhaps having a formal sleep study done. There are interventions to be tried at all levels because you don’t have to live with a sleep disorder. In fact, the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicineestimates that about 75% of people with a sleep disorder will recover from it.

Sleep Journal

Start by keeping a sleep journal to get an accurate picture of your sleep patterns. Track your sleep daily for at least two weeks and record: how much you sleep each night, how often you wake, if you napped and for how long, amount of caffeine, if you exercised, how tired you were during the day, and if you got any daylight.

“It’s a great idea to keep a sleep journal if you find yourself experiencing sleeping issues. Then, once you speak with an expert you will have a health history prepared to discuss your symptoms,” says Dr. Peña-Hernández.

You can further record your evening routine before bed, noting if you watch television at night, eat late, or drink alcohol. These notes will help you, or your doctor, assess lifestyle factors like stress, diet, and sleep hygiene.

Assess the Findings

Do you consistently have a rough night when you eat a big dinner or when you drink wine? Try assessing what is contributing to your sleep problems and start by making changes on your own to improve sleep. Read some articles on sleep hygiene and try altering some of your routines. If you think it might be a medical condition that is underlying the problem, then check with your doctor.

Do an Online Assessment 

From keeping and assessing your journal, you may have a good idea that you have a sleep disorder, but another way to confirm that you have a problem is to take an online assessment. There are a number of free online questionnaires from different schools and institutes that assess for sleep disorders. Try the London Sleep Center, or the Clayton Sleep Institute for easy online assessments.

Get Professional Help

“To determine if you have a sleep disorder, speak with your primary care physician or a sleep specialist. Speaking with a doctor or undergoing a sleep study can lead to a diagnosis,” says Dr. Peña-Hernández.

Make an appointment, bring your journal and your sleep assessment, and meet with a professional. You can start with your general practitioner, who may then refer you to a sleep expert, and in some cases to have a sleep study done at a sleep clinic. A professional can prescribe medications, offer advice on sleep hygiene, and tailor a plan to your specific needs.

Related: Sleep apnea testing

The other thing a professional can do is give you a physical to assess any comorbid conditions that affect sleep. Things like asthma, sinus problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, Parkinson’s, arthritis, or depression. Numerous medical conditions can cause or contribute to a sleep disorder.


How can you tell if you have a sleep disorder? There are a plethora of symptoms that can be indicative, so start by asking yourself if you have any of the basics. Do you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early? Do you fall asleep easily during the day, need a nap, or feel constantly fatigued? Any of these can be symptoms of a sleep disorder and might warrant some further checking. Keep a journal, do an online assessment, or see your doctor. The good thing about sleep disorders is that they are highly treatable.

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