Take Control of Your Sleep

When you have a heart problem, you see a cardiologist.  When you have a memory problem, you see a neurologist.  When you have a sleep problem- any sleep problem- consider asking your primary physician to see a sleep doctor.

Upon learning my profession, many people say, “I have a sleep problem!  How do I see a sleep doctor?” I respond, “Ask your primary care doctor to see a sleep physician.”  To some people, the answer seems self-evident; to others, the answer is surprising.  Even my patients often see their sleep troubles as norms.  They explain, “Well, everyone in my family snores” or “I’ve always had trouble sleeping” or “Yeah, I’d fall asleep in all of my afternoon lectures.” If you snored once, or fell asleep in class once, or struggled to sleep once, a sleep physician would have little to offer you.  However, sleep medicine offers effective treatments for snoring, which may represent sleep apnea; insomnia, by changing your sleep habits; and sleepiness, by investigating and treating the cause of your sleepiness.

But what if you have heart problems or memory problems?  Should you not prioritize these issues when you see your primary physician?  Your primary physician will surely address these problems. However, physicians tend to focus on immediate concerns and neglect root causes.  As doctors are now becoming aware, sleep disorders contribute to heart problems, memory problems, and in my opinion, most of the symptoms that patients discuss with their primary doctors.  By presenting sleep problems to your physician, you can improve the quality and breadth of care you receive.