Talk to Your Patients About Sleep

By Karin Krisher

sleepTalking to your patients about sleep should be easy. You know the ill effects of not getting enough sleep, so you ask how many hours they sleep per night and how restfully. You might ask if they’re ever fatigued or grow agitated easily. But what they don’t know can hurt them—and that’s how serious you are.


I average about six hours of sleep a night. Yes, I am tired. Yes, I toss and turn. My partner averages about three—an insomniac since birth. We’re both aware that this isn’t enough, but we tend to ignore the seriousness of the risks; much like a smoker says they’ll quit tomorrow, I don’t put in the effort to make a change in my sleep patterns. It won’t change unless I want it to change badly enough. How can you make your patients want it badly enough?

Tell them the truth.

At the recent SLEEP conference in Boston, presenters detailed how a lack of sleep can make us crave fat and sugar. Obesity is just one concern for us all-nighters.

Among others are shortened life span (this due to a variety of health effects), stress, depression and anxiety, cognitive decline (especially in memory), cardiovascular impairment and—ready for this?—poor judgment about sleeping habits, perpetuating the cycle.

Perhaps next time a patient has a few dark circles or you notice a heightened level of stress, asking more detailed questions about sleep (“Is there light coming in your window?”) will help you help them reach a solution.

Show patients data on sleep deprivation and health effects. Let them know that they’re not alone, and that there are a million solutions. From acupuncture to exercise, from diet to supplementation, from counting sheep to warm milk—there’s something for everyone. Make your message clear with facts and studies, and then make your mission clear with healthy suggestions.

Finally, catch some zzzs yourself, and then tell us about how you’ve been able to achieve proper rest under the buzz of a highly-productive world. If you have any personal tips, this writer would love a few!