WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- Lack of sleep is an important factor in many health problems, yet most primary care physicians don't ask patients about their sleep habits or problems according to a survey released today by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). And while most doctors admit to having limited knowledge about sleep-related issues, they rarely consult with sleep experts for information or refer patients to sleep centers, the survey found. "The paradox happening in doctors' offices can be dangerous to your health," said Richard L. Gelula, executive director of the National Sleep Foundation. "While our survey shows primary care physicians believe sleep is important to personal health and should be an essential part of a regular checkup, they do not feel they can take the time to discuss it." More than two-thirds (69%) of primary care physicians believe they should raise issues about sleep with their patients, however, nearly all (96%) say the discussion is more likely to occur if the patient initiates it. "People are not always aware that their sleepiness may be due to a sleep disorder," Gelula added. "And if you don't bring up the issue with your doctor, chances are it won't be discussed. That means a sleep problem that often can be treated goes undiagnosed," Gelula noted. Time is the major factor; nearly three-quarters (70%) of those surveyed said discussing sleep issues takes time away from other medical problems. "These findings clearly indicate that people must be empowered to take the first step in dealing with their sleep problems," Gelula said. To foster the beginning of discussions, NSF has prepared a simple guide, "Sleep Talk With Your Doctor," which includes information about your sleep, which can be shared with your physician. It is available on the NSF Web site, http://www.sleepfoundation.org . Importance and Perceptions of Sleep Issues While they may not ask their patients about sleep, primary care physicians believe that sleep is important to good health and place sleep and exercise just behind nutrition in importance. Doctors may be waiting for their patients to address sleep problems because they think the problems are less prevalent than what patients report. Physicians said about 16% of their patients have a sleep disorder, and 14% suffer from insomnia. Yet the NSF 2000 Sleep in America poll found that 62% of adults experienced a sleep problem a few nights a week or more in the past year and 58% reported symptoms of insomnia. In addition, the physicians do not consider a diagnosis and treatment of insomnia as urgent as other health conditions, such as asthma, sleep apnea, and migraine headaches. Need for More Knowledge and Tools A key to making sleep-related issues a higher priority for physicians could be offering more continuing education and diagnostic tools. More than three-quarters of respondents (80%) said they are not as knowledgeable about sleep problems as they should be; nearly all want more training in sleep issues during their residency with continued education made available, particularly in the area of insomnia. More than 80 percent agreed the availability of effective treatments and simple diagnostic tools would encourage them to prioritize sleep-related issues with their patients. However, physicians don't seem to take advantage of expertise currently available; more than half (54%) of the respondents admitted they don't usually consult with a specialist in sleep medicine. The telephone survey of 300 primary care physicians -- internal medicine and family practice physicians -- was conducted for the National Sleep Foundation by WB&A Associates between May 15-July 7, 2000. The margin of error is plus or minus 5.6 percent. The study was supported in part by an unrestricted educational grant from GlaxoWellcome, Inc. The National Sleep Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health and safety by achieving public understanding of sleep and sleep disorders, and by supporting public education, sleep-related research, and advocacy. NSF is based in Washington, DC.
SOURCE National Sleep Foundation