How To Talk To Your Doctor About Excessive Sleepiness

Most people know that sleep is integral to our mental and physical health, and that sleepiness takes a major toll on work, school, and relationships. Unfortunately, a lot of people go about their daily lives feeling excessively sleepy without mentioning this to their doctor. In fact, a National Sleep Foundation poll found that less than half of people say they would talk to their doctor if they thought they had a sleep problem, and seven in ten said that their doctor had never asked them about their sleep. More

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How To Talk To Your Doctor About Excessive Sleepiness

Most people know that sleep is integral to our mental and physical health, and that sleepiness takes a major toll on work, school, and relationships. Unfortunately, a lot of people go about their daily lives feeling excessively sleepy without mentioning this to their doctor. In fact, a National Sleep Foundation poll found that less than half of people say they would talk to their doctor if they thought they had a sleep problem, and seven in ten said that their doctor had never asked them about their sleep.

If you feel sleepy on a regular basis and it interferes with your productivity, your ability to think clearly and quickly, or to take care of and enjoy your family, treat this symptom seriously and talk to your doctor. If you have an upcoming well visit, you can discuss it then. You could also make a special appointment with your primary care doctor to discuss this, or simply call to ask for a referral to a doctor with a specialty in sleep medicine.

When you talk to your doctor, it will be helpful to know the following:

  • How long have you been feeling excessively sleepy?
  • How many days a week does this feeling occur?
  • Do you fall asleep during the day at work or at school?
  • What are your sleep habits: how many hours of sleep do you get on a regular weeknight and a regular weekend night?
  • Do you wake up during the night as far as you know?
  • Is there anything that makes your sleep schedule irregular, such as shift work or a new baby?
  • Do you snore?

Your doctor's task will be to sort out whether your sleepiness is a result of your sleep behaviors (See "Excessive Sleepiness & Sleep Habits") (e.g. your schedule and sleep environment), a sleep disorder (See "Excessive Sleepiness & Sleep Disorders") such as sleep apnea, or possibly another health condition (See "Excessive Sleepiness & Brain Problems") that causes sleepiness. Your doctor will ask you questions about your sleep habits and review your medical and psychiatric history with you. Depending on how this goes, he or she may want to do further tests and possibly even a sleep study, or polysomnography (see "How Does Polysomnography Work?") Close

How Does a Sleep Study, or Polysomnography, Work?

If your doctor suggests you undergo a sleep study, or polysomnography, you may be wondering what is involved in this test and what to expect. Sleep studies help doctors diagnose sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, insomnia, and nighttime behaviors like sleepwalking and REM sleep behavior disorder. Often these disorders cannot be identified with a normal office visit—your doctor needs to gather more conclusive evidence while you're asleep. More

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How Does a Sleep Study, or Polysomnography, Work?

If your doctor suggests you undergo a sleep study, or polysomnography, you may be wondering what is involved in this test and what to expect. Sleep studies help doctors diagnose sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, insomnia, and nighttime behaviors like sleepwalking and REM sleep behavior disorder. Often these disorders cannot be identified with a normal office visit—your doctor needs to gather more conclusive evidence while you're asleep.

A sleep study is a non-invasive, overnight exam that allows doctors to monitor you while you sleep to see what's happening in your brain and body. For this test, you will go to a sleep lab that is set up for overnight stays—usually in a hospital or sleep center. While you sleep, an EEG monitors your sleep stages and the cycles of REM and nonREM or NREM sleep you go through during the night, to identify possible disruptions in the pattern of your sleep. A sleep study will also measure things such as eye movements, oxygen levels in your blood (through a sensor—there are no needles involved), heart and breathing rates, snoring, and body movements.

A sleep study is done in a room that is made to be comfortable and dark for sleeping. You'll be asked to arrive roughly two hours before bedtime. You can bring personal items related to sleep, and you can sleep in your own pajamas. Before you go to bed in the exam room, a technologist will place sensors, or electrodes, on your head and body, but you'll still have plenty of room to move and get comfortable. Polysomnographic technologists monitor you during the night and can help you if you need to use the bathroom, for example. Many people wonder how they'll be able to sleep under these conditions. Don't worry about this too much—a full night of sleep is not required to gather useful information from your sleep study.

The data from your sleep study will usually be taken by a technologist, and later evaluated by your doctor. This may take up to two weeks, when you'll schedule a follow up to discuss the results. Close