I’m talking about sleep, of course. Underrated and underestimated, sleep holds a great power over all of us. However, even if we spend a big chunk of our lives – an entire third of it – sleeping, doctors seem to be dozing off on the merits of a good slumber.
Physicians’ stubborn sleep misconceptions“One thing you need more than a social life is sleep – you look like a zombie,” your friends quip while you commit to serving the patients who need your expertise. Despite the joke being half-meant, you ignore the sage advice that you may have already given your own patients: Get the sleep you need.
Surprisingly, sleep is not only underestimated but also stigmatized, especially among already-sleep-deprived professionals.
Physicians seriously need to reexamine the way they look at sleep. Here are some of the common misconceptions that have paved the way to a culture of sleep insufficiency, rampant among the very doctors who are supposed to discourage it.
1. “Sleep is important… but not for me”Despite recommending a good night’s sleep for better health, doctors often deprive themselves of it.
“Many doctors seem to think that sleep medicine is not that important,” says Dr. Virginia de los Reyes, president of the Philippine Society of Sleep Medicine, Inc. This misconception is arguably one of many that fueled the society’s 2016 World Sleep Day celebration, marked by awareness talks for both the general public and the medical community.
“We have been trained to ignore our need for sleep in pre-med and it only gets worse with internship. In a way, we have been taught that sleep is not a priority,” she says. “Some doctors are not even aware of the different sleep disorders.”
2: “Sleep disorders affect sleep and nothing more”Worse than the self-imposed sleep quota among many of us is the way we undermine the role that poor sleep plays in many life-threatening conditions.
“Some doctors have a low level of understanding when it comes to sleep. Even if patients tell their doctors about their sleep problems, they don’t know what to do and end up ignoring these complaints.”
Obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal breathing during sleep, is associated with heart attacks, hypertension, and stroke. Nope, doctors shouldn’t just sleep it off – pardon the pun.
3. “I can’t specialize in sleep medicine”Doctors from different fields, including internal medicine, neurology, psychiatry, cardiology, pulmonology, otorhinolaryngology, pediatrics, and general surgery, can train in sleep medicine.
“Right now, there are only 46 sleep doctors catering to the entire Philippine population. However, we are the only ASEAN country with a sleep training program. Even Singapore doesn’t have a formal training program,” says Dr. de los Reyes, who also happens to be program director of the Sleep Medicine fellowship program at the Lung Center of the Philippines.
4. “Only my rich patients can afford treatment for obstructive sleep apnea”“Without proper training, doctors tend to stereotype, assuming that only those with weight problems are prone to obstructive sleep apnea. They also think that sleep apnea is a disease of the rich and that only people who can afford the machine should pursue diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr. de los Reyes.
A typical sleep study at the Lung Center of the Philippines, allegedly the most affordable in the country, costs around PHP12,000 – about the same price as a CT scan. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, usually used in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea, costs around PHP25,000.
It’s not chump change. However, if a person spends that kind of money on gadgets that won’t save his life, then he may as well do the same on those that will.
“Patients will feel the immediate benefit [of CPAP therapy]. They will no longer be sleepy during the day. They will function better at work. Snoring and apnea are lessened. Complications are reduced.”
Dr. de los Reyes insists that even middle-income patients should be able to afford consultation and therapy. “If you set your priorities straight, it’s not that expensive. I mean, how much is your iPad?” MIMS
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