Sleep Habits: A Doctor’s Perspective

Sleep is a contributing factor to everyone’s health, and yet somehow, minimal research exists around the world’s sleep habits. Philips took the initiative to change that earlier this year by conducting a 10-country survey revealing insights around variations in sleep attitudes and behaviors.As a physician who travels the world talking to clinicians and patients about sleep, it came as a surprise to me that economic concerns and work stress were two of the biggest contributing factors to poor sleep. More than half of nearly 8,000 respondents ranked financial worries and job stress as their most common sleep disrupters.

To me, this signals a need for further research into this area as a health concern, and creates a call to action to clinicians everywhere to more directly address the less tangible challenges that may be impeding a good night’s sleep for millions.

Physicians: Are They Checking Up on Sleep?
Clinicians generally don’t ask about sleep issues with their patients, but focus mostly on how people are feeling during the waking hours. But in reality, we can’t ignore a person’s typical night’s sleep, especially as many health issues stem from lack of quality sleep.

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Physicians should consider proactively incorporating questions about sleep during each visit, and also ask straightforward questions about life stressors. A simple “How’s work going?” may reveal factors that need to be addressed related to sleep. Clinicians have a range of solutions for physical sleep disruptors, but may need to employ new approaches or work across a team of other specialists to help patients address the mental disruptors. At the same time, today’s more engaged patients should meet their physicians halfway and add sleep to their list of items to cover during their office visits.

Global Sleep Variations
Another key finding from this survey is that sleep management should be customized to the cultural differences of country. Bedroom environments in the U.S., for example, are often away from the living or communal spaces, but in Korea, people may sleep with their whole family in a room. While general advice is always helpful – like avoiding alcohol close and providing a period of worry-free rest before bed time – clinicians need to take into account the whole person and their surrounding culture.

Based on the findings of this initial research, researchers or health agencies in different countries should also be conducting deeper studies on their population, as clearly the economic health of their countries could be affected by sleep.

Connecting Sleep Issues
The healthcare industry is at an inflection point where we can bring the right research, data and informatics together to tackle broader sleep issues. The economy’s impact on sleep is just one issue that was brought to light with this comprehensive study, and there are likely many others. As we collect data about sleep via personal and professional health devices and medical records, we have the opportunity to dig deeper into health challenges across every stage of a person’s well-being – and sleep is no different.

All stakeholders – healthcare providers, homecare providers, payers and even employers should invest in uncovering these findings and offering programs, coping mechanisms and treatment plans to address sleep disruptors that are not only physical, but the underlining factors as to what’s preventing people from patients getting quality rest.

Sleep: A Global Perspective” is the first study to unearth worry about economic issues as a key factor impacting sleep. While researchers have issued reports on how the work environment affects sleep, this is the first to reveal overall economic pressure is a critical issue.

“Study is first to unearth worry about economic issues as a key factor impacting sleep.”

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Researchers should look more deeply at the economic impact on sleep across cultural lines, clinicians need to be more deliberate in incorporating discussions about sleep into their patient visits, and all stakeholders can examine opportunities to better mine sleep data to develop targeted sleep programs. Patients also need to proactively think about and address the psychological or mental issues that may be impacting their sleep.

With the investment and time put into these solutions, clinicians will be empowered to better understand and treat their patients, and we can all sleep a little better at night.

Teofilo Lee-Chiong, MD, is Chief Medical Liaison, Philips.

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