Talking to Your Doctor About Sleep Problems

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The medical community does not fully appreciate insomnia, and this is a sore spot for many sleep activists. Although there are doctors who specialize in sleep, most sleep-related complaints are heard by general practitioners and other types of doctors. Indeed, sleep problems are a symptom of so many conditions and a side effect of so many treatments, that doctors may get so used to hearing them that complaints no longer register.

Sometimes doctors will suspect you are making up symptoms to get a prescription for medication. This is an occupational hazard for doctors. So many people they see are on the make for prescriptions even when they don’t need them. Sleeping pills are used recreationally as are stimulants. Benzodiazepines certainly are as is the narcolepsy medicine modafinil and other “lifestyle drugs”. Doctors assess the patient in many ways and use judgment in writing prescriptions.

Even aside from that, how can you communicate your sleep problems to your doctor?

The biggest causes of miscommunication are due to two things:

1) Doctor’s don’t have enough time
2) Patients aren’t specific enough in their description of their situations.

Techniques to Use

  • Write out a list of questions beforehand. When you are discussing something as important as your health, it is easy to become nervous or upset. A list will help you remember important questions. Make them specific and brief because your doctor has limited time. Ask your most important questions first.
  • Write down the answers you get. Writing down answers will help you remember your doctor’s responses and instructions, and will help you understand as much later as you did during the visit.
  • Be assertive. If you don’t understand the know what a word means, ask about it. Remember to make your questions specific and brief. If there is something you can’t understand or resolve, ask your doctor if there is some other time that you can discuss it in more detail.
  • If something seems confusing to you, try to repeat it back to your doctor.

Be an active member of your own health care team!

Remember: you know your health history and symptoms. Tell the doctor. DO NOT be embarrassed to tell the doctor anything. Doctors are professionals and whatever you tell them they have surely heard before from other patients. It is hard to surprise a doctor with your health complaints, because they have heard everything.

Be ready to answer these questions in the doctor’s office:

  • How often you have insomnia
  • How long you’ve had insomnia or other sleep disorder
  • Sleep latency time (how long it takes to fall asleep)
  • Bedtime and wake-up time
  • Pattern of nighttime awakenings
  • Snoring severity
  • How you feel when you wake up – still sleepy or ready to go – and when and for how long you feel sleepy during the day. Also, do you experience excessive daytime sleepiness?

Keeping a sleep diary can help you answer these questions.

After the office visit

  • If you have questions, call. Oftentimes you won’t get the doctor, but you will get a knowledgeable nurse or physician’s assistant.
  • If you had tests and do not hear back the results, call the clinic or office and ask.
  • If your doctor said you need to have certain tests, make appointments at the lab or other offices to get them done. Often someone at the doctor’s office will help set this up.
  • If your doctor refers you to a specialist, make an appointment soon.

Another problem: doctors pleasing customers

In other industries customer satisfaction is a measure of success. In medicine, it is not so clear. Doctors should not do whatever their patients want. This is a problem when patients request prescriptions for medicines they do not need,

The desire to please also may end up stopping patients from fully understanding the risks of treatment.

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