How Can I Get My Doctor to Take My Sleep Problems Seriously?

3 answers | Last updated: Nov 06, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I get my doctor to take my complaints about my poor quality of sleep seriously?

Expert Answers

Steven Y. Park, M.D., is a board-certified otolaryngologist specializing in diagnosing and treating sleep-breathing problems such as obstructive sleep apnea, snoring, and upper airway resistance syndrome. Park is a blogger ( and author of the book Sleep, Interrupted: A Physician Reveals the #1 Reason Why So Many of Us Are Sick and Tired.

You've done the right thing by talking to your primary care doctor about your sleep concerns, but, unfortunately, what you've encountered is a common problem. Many primary care doctors, faced with a host of health issues, too quickly dismiss sleep problems. And that forces you to advocate for yourself.

Your best option is probably to convince your doctor to refer you to a specialist. Explain to your doctor that your lack of sleep is interfering with your health. (Sleep is a basic human need, and recent studies have tied sleep problems to many life-threatening health issues, including heart attack and stroke, depression, Alzheimer's, and falls.)

There are two types of specialists you could see: a sleep disorders specialist or an otolaryngologist, who treats problems of the ear, nose, and throat. If you have any reason to believe your sleep problems are related to breathing difficulties, an ear nose, and throat (ENT) specialist will be the most helpful. Clues include snoring, waking up with a sore throat or dry cough, or waking up with clenched teeth and a sore jaw. Sleep-disordered breathing problems, which include sleep apnea, Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS), and other conditions, can interfere with your sleep without your knowing it.

If you're unable to find a comfortable position and move around a lot, or you notice a tendency to kick or jerk your legs, you may have restless leg syndrome or another movement-related disorder. If that's the case -- or you don't know what the problem is -- a sleep disorders specialist is your best bet.

Either type of specialist will run tests to determine if physical symptoms are interfering with your ability to get to sleep or stay asleep.

To make sure you get the most out of your appointment, make a list of any and all health problems you suffer from and medications you take, and show your list to the doctor. Many medications can interfere with sleep, and things like chronic pain and other conditions can contribute to sleep problems. If you've been taking sleeping pills, such as Ambien or Lunesta, or you use alternative therapies, such as valerian, make sure you tell the doctor about these, too. Sleeping pills and herbal treatments can have unexpected side effects, particularly in older adults. Your doctor needs to know everything you're taking to make an accurate evaluation.

One word of caution: You may need to be quite persistent to get help with sleep-related problems. One poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 67 percent of older adults report serious sleep problems, but only one in eight is able to receive a diagnosis and treatment. To put it another way, out of the 37 million older adults who report poor sleep, only 7 million were diagnosed with a specific problem and treated. Insist that you get the help you need, and follow up with your doctor to make sure the prescribed treatment works and continues to work over time.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

well, this worked for me. I had been complaining of exhaustion for years and was on all different meds. What finally got my doc attention: I was stopped by the same police officer twice in two weeks for poor driving. My car was impounded. I was napping while he wrote the ticket. I finally got a sleep study, I had sleep apnea -I wasn't overweight was 37 at the time and I didn't snore so I did not look the type to have sleep apnea. It took 3 years for the insurance company to approve the surgery. I modified my life so that I don't drive after being awake for 14 hours with out a nap and I don't drive even with a nap after I have been up for 17 hours I am just not alert enough to function. It was an ENT that finally got the surgery approved and did the UUP, tonsils out sinus surgery and radio frequency to the base of the tongue. I went from 36 apneas to 4.9. I am still tired all the time but better. I would state in graphic detail how your life is impacted. Maybe you will get response sooner than I did!

A fellow caregiver answered...

bEST WAY I'VE FOUND TO GET a Dr. to address your concerns is pay him as slow as he finds you answers ! It's your money and your body-Take charge of it !