02 January 2015

Introducing January's theme: ALTERNATIVES

The most common treatments for sleep health problems are:
  • Pharmaceutical (sleeping pills or antidepressants, in example)
  • Surgical (removal or reconstruction of the airway for better breathing, for instance)
  • Prescriptive devices (positive airway pressure machines or O2 therapy, in particular)

All of these, of course, require a doctor's prescription and this means that the patient must go through the medical system in order to receive differential diagnosis and traditional treatment.

And this is a good thing for many people who have serious sleep disorders. In fact, SleepyHeadCENTRAL still maintains that the gold standard approach to diagnosing and treating sleep health problems is to start that journey through traditional avenues which rely on evidence-based medicine. (See the SHC statement in bold, below.)

Sleep apnea is perhaps the sleep disorder which most requires the careful observation and direction of a host of medical professionals, such as primary care physicians, pulmonologists, allergy specialists and dentists; together, they can help patients recover from dangerous sleep breathing patterns that otherwise negatively impact their health directly over nearly a third of their lives (which is spent in sleep).

There are myriad other sleep disorders which equally require the expertise of sleep doctors, such as movement disorders of sleep, hypersomnias and neurological co-conditions like epilepsy or Parkinsonism. These are serious conditions which require solid, evidence-based diagnosis and treatment.

However, there has been a rise in alternative health practitioners which may also serve to meet a sleep health patient's needs, especially in the areas of naturopathy and functional medicine. It's not a dirty secret that some sleep problems may be treatable without going through the usual healthcare protocols. It may be that cognitive behavior therapy might be the best solution for managing anxiety for some insomniacs, for instance, or the employment of alternative pain management techniques which don't involve drugs at all in order for some patients to achieve necessary sleep in order to heal.

And in the end, this is what matters the most: healing.

The field of medicine is rapidly changing these days, and the focus is now on better patient outcomes and fewer returns to the hospital, which basically boils down to efficiencies in cost management and more proactive, educated patients.

In other words, doctors are now required to provide more value for their services, while patients are now required to take more responsibility for their lifestyle choices and treatment compliance.

If both doctors and patients don't hold up their end of the bargain, they can expect refusal of reimbursement by insurance companies.

A potential benefit of this shift in healthcare focus? It's no longer impossible to find MDs who are cognizant, even open-minded, to alternatives to traditional drugs, surgeries or device therapies, especially if these alternatives could result in long-term adherence and better patient outcomes.

Another potential benefit is that patients may, indeed, become far more health literate in order to be their own best advocates while participating in the healthcare system. And that is never a bad thing.

Insurance companies are also more open to covering complementary services as more studies are showing success with these techniques, which is good news for both quality practitioners and patients.

SleepyHeadCENTRAL remains firm in its belief that people with sleep health problems are best advised to approach a medical professional for an appropriate differential diagnosis for their problems. 

Evidence-based medicine should still be at the very forefront of individual healthcare as it relates to diagnoses, as it is never a good idea for patients to self-diagnose for ongoing sleep health problems. However, medical professionals they can approach may also include naturopaths or functional medicine practitioners as well as traditional MDs. 

Finally, all patients deserve to know they have treatment options that extend beyond traditional approaches. 

The best way for a patient to become their own best healthcare advocate these days is through mindful education and awareness about both traditional approaches AND alternatives to those pharmaceutical, surgical or device-driven treatments for sleep problems.

This is where SleepyHeadCENTRAL enters: ALTERNATIVES hopes to give you some food for thought as you examine how you can best approach your sleep health problems in the years to come.

Wishing you good sleep health in 2015!

~The Curator, SHC