Fast Fact and Concept #101: Insomnia: Patient Assessment

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Title: Fast Fact and Concept #101: Insomnia: Patient Assessment

Author(s): Miller M; Arnold R

Sleep disorders are very common in the general population, the elderly, and in terminally ill patients. Difficulty sleeping causes significant suffering, contributing to fatigue that prevents patients from participating in meaningful daytime activities and decreasing their quality of life. This Fast Fact will focus on the assessment of insomnia.


Sleep History
Obtain a focused sleep history from the patient and bed partner:

Sleep hygiene: has the patient altered their bedtime routine (e.g. change in bedtime, use of sleep aids, laying on bed watching TV prior to sleep)?
Sleep chronology: onset, pattern and duration; whether the insomnia is transient, intermittent or persistent. A persistent problem usually is a consequence of a medical, neurologic or psychiatric disorder. Ask if the patient has difficulty initiating sleep, staying asleep, or both. Sleep apnea rarely cause disorders in initiating sleep. Nightmares (see Fast Fact #88: Nightmares) cause difficulty staying asleep and may reflect spiritual suffering. Ask about multiple nocturnal or early morning awakenings. Frequent awakening is often due to medicine and early awakening is classically due to depression.
Sleep environment -- Are any environmental factors (e.g. noise, light, odors) preventing sleep? This may be particularly important in the hospital or a situation where a patient has moved into an unfamiliar setting (e.g. children's house).
Physical symptoms -- Are there physical symptoms interfering with sleep (e.g. cough, pain, dyspnea)? Symptoms occurring just prior to sleep may reflect primary sleep disorders.
Medical conditions Are there co-morbid medical conditions that are associated with insomnia?
Spiritual concerns (FF #88): Fears about dying may cause a patient to be afraid of falling asleep or to not want to turn off the lights; especially common in patients with dyspnea. This is in contradistinction to more typical insomnia where the patient is bothered by the lack of sleep.

If needed, the patient should be asked to record their daily sleep patterns in a sleep log for one week; see http://www.talkaboutsleep.com/sleepbasics/sleeplog.pdf

Also See:
Fast Fact #88: Nightmares
Fast Fact #104: Non-pharmacological Therapy for Insomnia
Fast Fact #105: Insomnia - Pharmacological Therapies

Ohayon MM: Epidemiology of Insomnia: what we know and what we still need to learn. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 6(2):97-111, 2002 Apr.
Chokroverty, S. Evaluation and treatment of insomnia. http://www.uptodate.com 2003.
Schenck C, Mahowald M, Salk R. Assessment and management of insomnia. JAMA. 2003;289(19):2475-2463.

Copyright/Referencing Information: Users are free to download and distribute Fast Facts for educational purposes only. Citation for referencing: Miller M and Arnold R. Fast Facts and Concepts #101. Insomnia: Patient Assessment. November 2003. End-of-Life Physician Education Resource Center www.eperc.mcw.edu.

Disclaimer: Fast Facts provide educational information, this information is not medical advice. Health care providers should exercise their own independent clinical judgment. Some Fast Fact information cites the use of a product in dosage, for an indication, or in a manner other than that recommended in the product labeling. Accordingly, the official prescribing information should be consulted before any such product is used.

Creation Date: 11/2003

Format: Handouts

Purpose: Instructional Aid, Self-Study Guide, Teaching

Training: Fellows, 1st/2nd Year Medical Students, 3rd/4th Year Medical Students, PGY1 (Interns), PGY2-6, Physicians in Practice
Specialty: Anesthesiology, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, General Internal Medicine, Geriatrics, Hematology/Oncology, Neurology, OB/GYN, Ophthalmology, Pulmonary/Critical Care, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Surgery
Non-Physician: Nurses

ACGME Competencies: Medical Knowledge, Patient Care

Keyword(s): Cardio-pulminary, Constitutional, Gastrointestinal, Metabolic, Musculoskeletal, Neurologic, Non-pain symptoms/disorders/syndromes, Oral/communication, Psychiatric, Sexuality and reproduction, Skin/lymphatic

The Fast Facts series is distributed for educational use only and does not constitute medical advice. For the most current version of Fast Facts visit the EPERC web site at www.eperc.mcw.edu. This mirror version is provided subject to copyright restrictions for educational use within the Inter-Instutional Collaborating Network on End-of-Life Care (IICN).