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What Does “Healthy Sleep” Mean To You?

Don’t show up to your next physical without this crucial information.

 

You and your physician have a lot of ground to cover at a typical check-up—and considering that the average appointment lasts only 10 to 20 minutes, there’s no time to waste. Your doctor will likely assess your blood pressure, heart, and lungs and order blood work, and he might ask about your diet, stress level, and regular exercise routine. What he may not always bring up: your sleep habits. If you suspect that you’re having trouble getting enough zzz’s, it’s crucial that you start the conversation. In fact, even if you sleep soundly, discussing your shut-eye with your doctor can still be helpful.

In preparation for your appointment, it’s wise to keep a one- to two-week sleep diary. There’s even a sample diary over on the main National Sleep Foundation site to get you started. For each entry, note the following:

  • The date, day of the week, and type of day (work day, weekend, vacation, or other)
  • What times you drink caffeine or alcohol (including the amount), take medication (include the dose), and exercise (jot down type and duration)
  • What time you nap and for how long
  • Your bedtime, and how long after you likely fell asleep
  • How many times you wake up during the night and when
  • What time you wake up the next morning

These details will help your doctor get a clear picture of your sleep patterns, as well as what lifestyle factors may be affecting your slumber.

Sometimes, though, a sleep diary doesn’t reveal everything about your nighttime challenges. In that case, it pays to do some additional detective work before your appointment so you can bring more information with you.

  •  Ask your bed partner if you snore or make snorting, gasping, or choking noises when you sleep.
  •  Note how rested you feel most mornings (do you hit snooze nine times, bound out of bed, or experience something in between?).
  • Consider whether you ever get sleepy while driving or watching TV at night.
  • If you wake during the night, how long does it take you to fall back to sleep?
  • Examine your sleep environment, including bedroom temperature, bed size, level of darkness, and distractions like a television set or bedside smartphone.
  • Think about whether you worry about sleeping, falling back to sleep once you wake, or getting enough sleep.
  • Record any medical conditions you have that could interfere with sleep.

Armed with all of these insights, you can present a full, clear picture of your sleep to your doctor. In some cases, it may help your physician diagnose an issue such as insomnia, anxiety, or sleep apnea. And in others, it may simply give him a better sense of who you are as a patient—something that can only help improve the quality of care you receive. Hopefully, in the future, more doctors will make time to regularly ask these sorts of sleep-related questions, but until then, be proactive!