Problems with sleep is a common reason for people to visit their GP. In a survey by The Sleep Foundation up to 20 per cent of people felt daytime sleepiness affected their daily activities. Even more concerning is that eight per cent reported falling asleep at work and 19 per cent made errors at work because of their sleepiness.
Sleep can be affected by some medications, such as strong painkillers, anti-depressants and some heart medications. Alcohol and stimulants such as nicotine also affect sleep quality.
A variety of medical conditions can affect sleep including:
Insomnia – a problem of sleep quantity, most commonly, difficulty getting to sleep or early waking. This can be due to jet lag, shift work or can be a sign of anxiety, stress or depression. Good “sleep hygiene” practices are the first line treatment for insomnia. Sleeping tablets are not routinely recommended.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) – a condition where there is an uncomfortable sensation in the legs with an irresistible urge to move the legs to relieve the discomfort. If severe this can be treated with a medication prescribed by your GP.
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) – a condition where the throat collapses during sleep and breathing is ineffective. This results in snoring, apnoeas (stopping breathing) followed by gasps or choking. This often requires a mask to be worn at night to help keep the airway open.
Narcolepsy – a rarer condition which results in “sleep attacks”, an irresistible urge to sleep during the day, often coming on very suddenly. This is usually treated by specialists with medication.
Sleep disorders can also increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes as well as contributing to poor mental health.
To diagnose a sleep disorder your GP will often use a sleep diary as well as a questionnaire to determine the severity, such as the “Epworth Sleepiness Scale”.
If you suffer from daytime sleepiness you should see your regular GP.
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