When To See A Doctor About Your Lack Of Sleep

It’s bedtime. You know you need at least seven hours of solid sleep to be ready for the next day. You are sleepy yet the moment your head hits the pillow, your mind begins to race. You ruminate over the day’s events, worry about tomorrow. Or, maybe you have no problem falling asleep, but wake up at 3 a.m. — several hours before your alarm is set to ring, and you are unable return to sleep.

If morning finds you drowsy and you have to prop yourself up with a cup of coffee to make it through the day, you may want to consider seeing a doctor.

How serious are sleep disorders?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) labels insufficient sleep as a public health epidemic. This may sound extreme, but one study estimates that 50-70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders affecting their performance at work and their ability to concentrate on daily tasks. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that sleepy drivers are responsible for 40,000 non-fatal vehicle accidents and 1,550 traffic fatalities each year. Sleep problems are associated with chronic diseases and mental disorders.  

It is normal to have occasional problems falling or staying asleep. You may be going through a particularly stressful time in your life or your body may be reacting to medications, food or drink. A hormonal change, such as those experienced during menopause, can contribute to insomnia. Your sleep difficulties may stem from your sleep environment; light, noise and room temperature will affect the quality of your sleep. Measures such as cutting back on caffeine or installing light-blocking window shades may be enough to cure bouts of sleeplessness.

When it becomes more than a few restless nights

If your sleep problems are ongoing, and they negatively affect your quality of life, it may be time to consult a doctor. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests the following symptoms should alert you to the possibility you have a sleep disorder:

  • It consistently takes more than a half-hour to fall asleep at night
  • You consistently awaken several times during the night or for long periods each night
  • You consistently wake too early in the morning
  • You often feel sleepy during the day or nod of at inappropriate times during the day
  • You frequently take naps
  • Your bed partner reports that you snore loudly or make choking sounds in your sleep
  • You have creeping, tingling feelings in your legs, especially when you try to fall asleep
  • You have vivid, dreamlike experiences while falling asleep or dozing

Track your sleep patterns

The NIH recommends keeping a sleep diary to determine how much quality sleep you get each night. A sleep diary template is available at the NIH website. If your diary revels you regularly suffer the symptoms listed above, make an appointment with your health care provider. The information you collect in your sleep diary will help your doctor determine the severity of your problem and the need for medical intervention.