When you visit your primary care provider, they will likely take measurements like weight and blood pressure. They might ask about your dietary habits and your exercise routines. They might even order some tests to check your cholesterol levels or your blood sugar. Yet, they are unlikely to delve deep into your sleep.
So, if you are struggling with sleep, you might need to take responsibility for introducing the issue with your doctor. Here are a few ways to talk to your doctor about sleep and achieve the restful nights of your dreams.
Know When Troubled Sleep is an Issue
If you wake up feeling tired after you stayed out drinking until 2AM, you probably don’t have a reason to seek professional help. However, if you continue to lay awake night after night, desperate to achieve some level of rest and unable to allow your body and mind to drift off to dreamland, you could have a serious sleep issue. A few signs and symptoms of dangerously troubled sleep include:
- You struggle to fall or stay asleep regularly.
- You often wake up earlier than you prefer.
- You rarely feel refreshed upon waking.
- You usually feel excessively tired during the day.
- You have difficulty performing daily activities.
You fall asleep during periods of inactivity, like watching television.
Keep a Sleep Diary for a Few Weeks
Before you schedule your doctor’s appointment, you might take a couple weeks to keep a sleep diary. You should chronicle what you do during your pre-sleep routine, what and when you take stimulants (like coffee and cigarettes), how much sleep you get per night and how you feel during the day. With this information, you might be able to begin addressing your sleep issue on your own — perhaps by limiting or eliminating stimulants — but you will certainly have useful intel for your doctor’s appointment.
Take Notes on Any Sleep Supplements
Many people struggling with sleep disorders will turn to over-the-counter sleep aids. Benadryl is a popular option as are natural sleep capsules that contain herbs like hemp or valerian. If you have been taking any supplements to improve your sleep, you should take notes on their names and their dosages. You might also note any sleep aids that you have not tried but that you are interested in sampling, so your doctor can give you more information about how they might affect your sleep.
Be Ready for Your Doctor’s Questions
Sleep is a complex health issue, and many doctors strive to learn as much as possible about your sleep — before and after it became troubled — before they are willing to suggest solutions. Many of their questions can be addressed from the data you collect in your sleep journal, but some additional questions doctors ask patients struggling with sleep include:
- When did you first notice symptoms? Did anything in your life change around the same time?
- What did a good night’s sleep feel like for you before you started experiencing sleep troubles?
- How is your mental health?
- Could you be pregnant or experiencing menopause?
- Are you using any illicit substances?
- Do you have a family history of sleep disorders or mental health concerns?
Prepare for the Next Steps in Treatment
Your doctor may make a diagnosis right then and there, but more likely, they will schedule additional tests to collect even more information. Some severe diseases can be the cause of sleep troubles, and eliminating the possibility of those conditions will be a primary concern for many healthcare providers. For example, your doctor may want blood tests or imaging tests to understand more about your overall health. Some doctors may refer you to sleep specialists, who will have more concentrated knowledge and skill in treating sleep disorders.
It is possible that either your primary care provider or a specialist will prescribe you medication to help you sleep. This is especially likely if you are experiencing a traumatic event, like the loss of a loved one, or if you maintain an occupation that requires sufficient rest, like heavy machine operation. However, you are also likely to be recommended some kind of sleep therapy, which will help you develop a healthier mindset and routine to promote sleep.
You and your primary care provider are a team that must work together to solve your troubled sleep. With the right information and the right action, you could be sleeping soundly soon.