Recognizing Sleep Disorders in a Primary Care Setting

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As many as one third of the general population suffers from some form of sleep disorder. Although sleep disorders are widespread in society, few patients present with overt sleep complaints; they instead present with symptoms of fatigue, excessive sleepiness, and impaired waking function. Untreated sleep disorders, particularly insomnia, can lead to potentially life-threatening automobile crashes and industrial accidents. In addition, poor motor, mental, and cognitive function at home, work, and school can negatively impact a patient’s quality of life. Therefore, physicians must maintain a high index of suspicion for sleep disorders whenever they see patients, and they must ask sleep-related questions during office visits for acute conditions, chronic conditions, and annual physical examinations. Today’s "24/7" society experiences sleep disorders in ever-increasing numbers, and people who work shifts are at risk for developing circadian rhythm sleep disorder, particularly shift work sleep disorder. Physicians must engage their patients in a discussion of their occupations and sleeping habits in order to detect and treat sleep disorders.

J Clin Psychiatry 2004;65(suppl 16):23-26