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How To Discuss Sleep With Your Doctor

Doctors might not detect sleep problems during routine office visits because patients are awake. Thus, you should let your doctor know if you think you might have a sleep problem.

For example, talk with your doctor if you often feel sleepy during the day, don't wake up feeling refreshed and alert, or are having trouble adapting to shift work.

To get a better sense of your sleep problem, your doctor will ask you about your sleep habits. Before you see the doctor, think about how to describe your problems, including:

  • How often you have trouble sleeping and how long you've had the problem
  • When you go to bed and get up on workdays and days off
  • How long it takes you to fall asleep, how often you wake up at night, and how long it takes you to fall back asleep
  • Whether you snore loudly and often or wake up gasping or feeling out of breath
  • How refreshed you feel when you wake up, and how tired you feel during the day
  • How often you doze off or have trouble staying awake during routine tasks, especially driving

Your doctor also may ask questions about your personal routine and habits. For example, he or she may ask about your work and exercise routines. Your doctor also may ask whether you use caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, or any medicines (including over-the-counter medicines).

To help your doctor, consider keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks. Write down when you go to sleep, wake up, and take naps. (For example, you might note: Went to bed at 10 a.m.; woke up at 3 a.m. and couldn't fall back asleep; napped after work for 2 hours.)

Also write down how much you sleep each night, how alert and rested you feel in the morning, as well as how sleepy you feel at various times during the day. Share the information in your sleep diary with your doctor. You can find a sample sleep diary in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's "Your Guide to Healthy Sleep."

Doctors can diagnose some sleep disorders by asking questions about sleep schedules and habits and by getting information from sleep partners or parents. To diagnose other sleep disorders, doctors also use the results from sleep studies and other medical tests.

Sleep studies allow your doctor to measure how much and how well you sleep. They also help show whether you have sleep problems and how severe they are. For more information, go to the Health Topics Sleep Studies article.

Your doctor will do a physical exam to rule out other medical problems that might interfere with sleep. You may need blood tests to check for thyroid problems or other conditions that can cause sleep problems.

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February 22, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.