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

How To Help Your Patients Get Better Sleep

Author Rachel Salas spends a lot of time thinking, researching, and educating about a basic human need - sleep!


Our society is 24/7. People see sleep as a luxury, but it's a basic human need. As clinicians, we should ask patients about their sleep. Here's what I recommend to my patients when they ask what they can do to sleep better.

Sleep – a basic human need


Our society is 24/7. People see sleep as a luxury, BUT it’s a basic human need.

As clinicians, we should ask patients about their sleep. There are several consequences of poor sleep (whether it’s due to having an undiagnosed and therefore untreated sleep disorder, or because the person is just not getting enough sleep for one reason or another) that can negatively impact a patient’s health. Some of these consequences include memory and cognitive issues, weight gain, increased risk of being in a motor vehicle accident, irritability, and poor productivity and vigilance.


Ask your patients about their sleep


Be sure to ask your patients about their sleep. The first step is to just ask how they are sleeping. See if your patients have risks factors for sleep disorders like sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is now listed as a cause of death on death certificates. Sleep apnea has major health-related consequences like stroke, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, GERD, erectile dysfunction, to name a few.


Recommendations to share with patients


1.) Make your room darker. Block out outside light and don’t sleep with electronics near your bed.

Light interferes with a person’s internal clock (circadian rhythm).  I recommend using lamps and dimmers in the evening. Remove glowing bedside clocks.


2.) Follow a regular sleep wake schedule with a set bedtime and set awakening time.

People tend to focus on getting 7-9 hours of sleep. This is important, but the timing consistency of your sleep wake schedule may be even more important. Stay consistent even on weekends and holidays.


3.) Limit caffeine after noon.

Caffeine can stay around awhile in people. Many foods have caffeine in it and counseling your patients on this can be helpful.


4.) Flat pillows and old mattresses may cause neck or back pain, interfering with your ability to find a comfy sleep position. Wash and replace these regularly. Wash bed sheets every 1-2 weeks. Allergens can disrupt sleep; many people are not aware of this.


5.) Create a bedtime routine. Take a warm shower or bath, don your PJs, do some relaxing reading.


6.) Consider a white noise machine or fan to help with noise and temperature.


7.) Keep your room somewhere between 65 to 69 degrees, which is an ideal range for most people.


8.) Spicy or fatty meals may cause you to wake up with indigestion. Eat three hours before bed. Same goes for alcohol. If you’re hungry before bed, a light snack such as yogurt or cereal is ok.


9.) Unplug. This helps you relax.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, your body clock is in sync with the rise and setting of the sun, but TV and electronics emit blue light that can restrain the production of melatonin, the chemical that makes you sleepy. Unplug at least an hour before bed.