Rude awakening: Sleep specialists realize many doctors know zilch about sleep

Friday, July 22, 2016 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

Here’s a question for all my doctor-colleagues: How many of your patients did you refer to another doctor in the past year? Of those, how many were referrals to a sleep specialist?

None? Nada? Could it be that the number of referrals you made to sleep experts is the same amount you know about sleep medicine – that is, zero?

I hope not. Abnormal sleep has been a silent contributor to many lethal illnesses, including intractable hypertension, stroke, and heart attacks. Not making a referral to Sleep Medicine is tantamount to missing out on an opportunity to save a patient’s life.

MIMS sleep medicineAfter a chat with a sleep specialist, I learned a few surprising things about sleep medicine… such as how many doctors don’t know much about it. Check out this screenshot of my MIMS article.

By the way, a patient who snores does not necessarily have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and vice versa. If there’s snoring, however, it is a good reason to consult a sleep expert – chances are, OSA is hiding under the covers.


Sleep medicine: Why it should matter to all doctors

Should I blame you if you didn’t know that you could (and should) refer your patients to sleep experts? Probably not. Sleep Medicine is a relatively young field of specialization in our country, with less than 50 sleep specialists in the Philippines to cater to the millions of Filipinos who are suffering from parasomnias and other sleep disorders.

But other than having a horde of doctors who look like zombies from lack of sleep, what is the harm in doctors not prioritizing a good snooze?

“After training, doctors have this notion that they could sacrifice sleep. They then carry that mentality when it comes to their patients,” says Dr. Virginia de los Reyes, president of the Philippine Society of Sleep Medicine, Inc. (PSSMI), during the 2016 World Sleep Day forum at the Lung Center of the Philippines.

World Sleep Day 2016Doctors tell colleagues to wake up during the World Sleep Day forum: We shouldn’t be snoozing on sleep-related health problems.

It’s not just about sleep. It’s also about public safety. When a doctor feels no urge to underscore the importance of a good night’s sleep, his patients stay ignorant and misinformed.

“Think of all the pilots and drivers who feel sleepy,” says Dr. de los Reyes. Then, think of all the people who have entrusted their lives to sleep-deprived pilots, drivers, train engineers, and many others whose profession banks on mental vigilance.

Think of all the lives in danger simply because nobody – not even their own doctors – has bothered to tell them that sleep is of utmost importance, not only to their own well-being but also to the lives of others.


Even physicians misunderstand sleep

“Many doctors think sleep disorders are not urgent,” says Dr. de los Reyes.

Aside from underestimating the urgency and importance of sleep, physicians also misinterpret sleep-related trends and statistics. “Most doctors [have a tendency to] profile patients. They expect patients with obstructive sleep apnea to be obese males.

“However, we’re Asians. Because of our Asian features, we don't need to be overweight to get sleep apnea. If you have a very young patient with hypertension, you usually find that he has sleep apnea if you have the initiative to check.”

Ridiculously enough, sleep specialists often become the butt of jokes, almost all of which are due to ignorance and miseducation.

“There are many basic things that even medical schools overlook [about sleep medicine] that it’s so difficult to change the mindset of these institutions.”

“We say we are sleep experts and they say, ‘So, you’re an expert on sleeping?’”

You might be surprised when you learn about the many other myths still rampant in the medical community. Check out this article I wrote for MIMS on why it’s time for doctors to wake up from their stubborn misconceptions about sleep.


Sleep medicine: definitely not dozing off

Only sleep specialists were invited to attend past sleep forums organized by PSSMI. More recently, doctors from other specialties are being asked to participate.

“The discussion [on sleep] should not be limited to sleep doctors only. In our forums, cardiologists now talk about heart problems related to sleep. Psychiatrists talk about how sleep disorders are related to psychiatric issues. Occupational health experts discuss sleep conditions and work safety.”

Aside from working with different specialists, PSSMI partnered with different brands that specialized in sleep, such as Uratex.

“Each doctor caters to two million patients. It’s obvious that we need help. One thing we do look at for good sleep is the quality of the bed,” says Dr. Keith Romeo Aguilera, PSSMI treasurer.


The art (and science) of sleep

Now that you know the importance of a good night’s sleep, it’s time to find out how one can sleep peacefully and comfortably.

These guidelines on how to choose the perfect mattress might help you and your patients. Everyone should know this because we sleep on our beds daily! “You spend seven hours of the day in bed. That's a huge chunk of your life,” says PSSMI Vice President Dr. Agnes Remulla.

Here’s to better sleep and better mornings. None of us don’t want to look like zombies, that’s for sure.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!