Many people suffer with insomnia and other sleep related conditions for years before deciding to do something positive to improve their sleep and their lives.
Lack of sleep affects health, work and relationships and should not be ignored. With increased recognition of the importance of a good night’s sleep and the availability of help and support many people are turning to their GP for advice.
GPs know that sleep is an important aspect of health care but patients are sometimes unsure when they should consult their doctors. In general, anyone who is worried or feels that they are not getting enough sleep should make an appointment but should not go with the expectation of a fast solution or a prescription for sleeping pills…
Before visiting your GP it is helpful to be prepared to answer a few questions. Your GP will want to know more about your health and may ask you to take some further tests as there are a number of health conditions that can affect sleep patterns. They will also want to know if their have been any recent events that have triggered sleep difficulties as anxiety is one of the prime factors in sleeplessness.
Be Prepared to Help your GP by:
Analysing your current sleep pattern. A sleep diary taken over a full week listing bed and waking times and how you feel when waking and if you feel tired during the day.
Any events or concerns you may have over your health, work, relationships or other areas of your life which may be making you anxious or depressed
Checking your sleep ‘hygiene’. This means looking at other aspects of your life including diet, alcohol and exercise that can stop you getting a good nights sleep
Looking at your environment including your bedroom and your bed. Noise, light, heat and cold could be making you uncomfortable and make it hard to fall asleep or waking you up
Sleeping partners (including babies!) may be making it hard to get sufficient rest.
Parents are also encouraged to make an appointment if they have concerns over children who are sleeping poorly. Lack of sleep can affect learning and may be a sign of other health problems. If your child has difficulty breathing, falling asleep, and wakes frequently or suffers from recurrent nightmares or other conditions, a trip to the GP can provide valuable support.
Once your GP has a full picture of your individual problem there are a number of solutions that may be recommended. If there is a medical problem such as Sleep Apnea or one of the other sleep conditions there will a predefined route that may include aids or pills designed to improve sleep.
For the majority a more holistic approach is usually advised designed for long term improvement. This will include advice on how to prepare the body, mind and environment to fall asleep and get sufficient rest. This, inevitably takes time and commitment and may include a sleep ‘plan’ and follow up appointment.
Patients suffering from depression and anxiety may be offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which has proved successful in easing symptoms that lead to sleeplessness.
Physical symptoms causing pain or discomfort can often be eased through painkillers, physiotherapy or therapies such as massage, acupuncture, yoga and medication. GPs will have access to services and opportunities in these areas.
For severe conditions or short term relief, sleeping pills may be prescribed. Responsible GPs will want to be sure that they are promoting good health care and will want to explore other avenues before reaching for the prescription pad. It is important to work with your GP and take the steps that will provide long term relief.
For some conditions further investigation is necessary and a visit to the Sleep Laboratory may be advised. There are a number of these laboratories where through observation and testing the extent of sleep difficulties can be monitored and observed creating a clear picture of what is happening during sleep.
A visit to a GP is the first step in what can sometimes be a long journey towards regular refreshing sleep. By making that appointment you will be helping yourself regain control over an important but sometimes neglected part of your life and health.