Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

How To Help Your Patients Get Better Sleep, Part I

The author discusses patient sleep with a colleague.


A sleep specialist reminds us of the importance of asking patients about their sleep.

Lifelong Learning in Clinical Excellence | June 18, 2018 | 2 min read

Underdiagnosed and undertreated


More than 80 million Americans struggle with sleep, with 60 million meeting the criteria for having a sleep disorder.


There are 81 identified sleep disorders divided into 8 categories that apply to various medical specialties.


Sleep disorders typically coexist with many common and chronic medical conditions – arthritis, diabetes, and obesity – and can contribute to the development of hypertension, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events.


Yet, sleep disorders are under diagnosed, and thus untreated. The problem isn’t just for these patients, but is a concern for all of us as we are all driving on the road and interacting with these same individuals on a daily basis.


Not asking your patients about their sleep is a missed opportunity for improving their health.


Unfortunately, the under recognition and subsequent mistreatment of sleep disorders is becoming a public health crisis.


While sleep is something we all do, most could stand to improve. As clinicians, our goal should first start with assessing for risk of sleep disorders in effort to diagnose and treat.


What you can do to help your patients


1.) Ask about your patient’s sleep.

If you don’t ask, they probably won’t tell you.


2.) Assess for risk factors. Educate yourself.

Sleep medicine education is still limited across healthcare training programs. Arm yourself with education in sleep. Look for opportunities to learn more about sleep. Look outside your department. Sleep is multidisplinary and a sleep specialist may be giving a grand rounds around the corner. HINT: Neurology, Psychiatry, ENT, Anesthesiology, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine are just a few disciplines that can house sleep specialists.


3.) Team up with an accredited sleep center.

Connecting with a sleep center is a great way to develop a long-term relationship with sleep specialists to help ensure your patients are served should you seek a formal evaluation. Learn the process of how to order sleep studies, a formal consult, what happens after you patient gets a sleep study, etc.


4.) Consider tools to help identify your patients.

There are validated surveys that can help you in assessing risk for certain sleep disorders.


In collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of sleep and medical software design experts, we’ve developed an app to educate care providers and help them identify patients where there’s a concern for a sleep disorder. The app also provides a customized print-out that educates on the sleep disorder of concern, the patient’s risk factors, risks if not assessed and treated, and behavioral modifications that the patient can do. This app can be completed in the waiting room and even generates a referral for patients with a major concern for a sleep disorder.