Primary Care Physicians Ignoring Patients' Sleep Problems, According to New National Sleep Foundation Survey

Patients Must Initiate Discussions With Doctors

About Sleep-Related Issues, Says NSF

Jan 22, 2001, 00:00 ET from National Sleep Foundation

    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, .
     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,

SOURCE National Sleep Foundation