Sleep Doctor: The Friend Who Helps You to Get Back Those Forty Winks

When one is advised for the first time to consult a sleep doctor, chances are that the patient gets a bit confused. What kind of a doctor is a sleep doctor? How can one get in touch with such a professional?

First of all, a doctor who treats sleep disorders is no ordinary doctor. According to American Academy of Sleep Medicine : a physician who is a sleep specialist is certified in the subspecialty of sleep medicine and specializes in the clinical assessment, physiologic testing, diagnosis, management and prevention of sleep and circadian rhythm disorders.

Sleep specialists treat patients of any age and use multidisciplinary approaches. Disorders managed by sleep specialists include, sleep related breathing disorders, insomnia, hypersomnia, circadian rhythm sleep disorders, parasomnias (abnormal things that can happen to people while they sleep, apart from sleep apnea and including night terrors, sleep paralysis, etc) and sleep related movement disorders.

 Management of sleep disorders demand a multi-disciplinary approach 

Since sleep disorders have varied origin and cause of onset, management of any particular condition can demand the intervention of more than one specialty. A brief overview of some specialties and their backgrounds:

–          Pulmonologist, a doctor specializing in lung ailments is a type of sleep doctor who has attended a 6-month fellowship program to acquire the certification. They have expertise in breathing-related sleep disorders.

–          American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine (ABDSM) offers Diploma in sleep medicine to doctors specializing in sleep dentistry. Also called an orthodontist, this specialist helps with oral appliances.

–          Neurologist or an internal medicine specialist or even a psychiatrist.

–          Otolaryngologists, commonly known as ENT specialists are one of the most in-demand doctors treating sleep disorders, particularly sleep apnea. They are essentially surgeons needed for correcting septal deviation, removing enlarged nasal turbinates, polyps, enlarged tonsils/adenoids, etc.

How does one access a sleep doctor? 

It is best to take a step-wise approach while you are on the search:

  1. Check with your insurance provider if expenses related to consulting a sleep specialist are reimbursable. You need to do this BEFORE any appointment with a sleep specialist as most of these doctors need a referral from a general physician before you are sent to any sleep apnea test center for diagnosis. No matter whether the sleep test is done at home or at a sleep clinic, insurance providers require some procedural protocols to be maintained before claims are entertained.
  2. You now need to go for a sleep study, the results of which would reveal the type of sleep disorder as well as severity. The treatment method as well as type of sleep doctor who would treat you entirely depends on the result of the sleep study.

Online resources for accessing accredited doctors: 

–           American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM): Their website provides information regarding various accredited sleep centers as well as a listing of certified behavioral sleep medicine specialists.

–          American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM): this is an authoritative body that provides the Board Certificate for Sleep Medicine. The site maintains a searchable list of Board Certified Sleep Specialists by state or name.

–         American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM): Dentists interested in treating sleep disorders with oral appliances are members of this organization. You can find a directory of dentists specialized in treating certain sleep problems.

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