Sleep disorders common amongst physicians, tests show

TUESDAY, JULY 09, 2024

An ancient proverb dating back millennia, “Physician Health Thyself” has no bearing on sleep disorders. Like most sufferers, doctors are mostly unaware that they have a problem, never mind find the time to do anything about it. But a new project implemented by MedPark late last year focused on making physicians, particularly those who work long hours and different shifts, undergo a sleep test.

Sleep disorders are silent threats and surprisingly common, says Dr Jirayos Chintanadilok, a sleep medicine specialist at MedPark Hospital, who recently revealed the results of the  “MedPark Save Doctor’s Sleep Quality”, explaining that 80% of 279 participants were diagnosed as suffering from sleep apnea, with 56% falling into the moderate level with breathing pauses from 15 times an hour.

“It's staggering that most participating physicians have sleep apnea at different levels. Heavy responsibilities and shift work can cause sleep disorders that negatively impact performance and patient care effectiveness such as misdiagnosis,” Dr Jirayos said.

He explained that some people might feel that they sleep well because they can fall asleep quickly. In fact, that might be merely because they are tired. Research shows that people with moderate sleep apnea have increased risks of health problems including cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes, brain health, depression, anxiety disorder, and mood swings.

Jaijan Somjai Hiranwatananon, a paediatric neurologist at the National Institute of Health of Thailand who participated in the MedPark Save Doctor’s Sleep Quality project, said that she and her husband - a surgeon, joined the campaign because they wanted to learn about sleep tests and advanced technology. 

(from left) Dr Jirayos Chintanadilok and Jaijan Somjai Hiranwatananon

Both were confident they were in good health and had no sleep problems. They were wrong. The test revealed that she had mild sleep apnea while her husband had a moderate level.

“We had never expected sleeping problems because my husband plays tennis and golf regularly and falls asleep easily. The specialist informed that he probably fell asleep very quickly because he was tired after a hard day’s work,” Jaijan said.

She also learned the necessity of sleep hygiene in preventing poor sleep quality.

Jaijan Somjai Hiranwatananon

She was advised to try to relax, unwind and meditate before going to bed. Ideally, a sleep routine should be the same every day, including weekends. Besides changing habits and behaviours, environmental factors including family support are also important.

Jaijan suggested that a sleep test be included in the health check-up programme so that everyone, doctors and medical staff included, learns to be aware of sleep quality.

Dr. Jirayos expects that the project will help alert doctors to the dangers of sleep disorders and undergo diagnosis. MedPark Save Doctor’s Sleep Quality was introduced as a CSR project out of concern for the long hours medical staff work and assist them to improve sleep quality and provide effective care to patients.