Talking to your doctor about your sleep problems

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.

Try these techniques

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:

Keeping a sleep diary can help you answer these questions.

After the office visit:

The federal government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality publishes a booklet called Your Medicine: Be Smart Be Safe. You can download it as a PDF file.

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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