A sleep doctor is a health professional specialist who addresses issues relating to sleep, sleep disorders and sleep health. A sleep doctor may be a sleep physician or a sleep psychologist. Each type of sleep specialist deals with different aspects of sleep health.
Most sleep physicians have extra training in sleep medicine. Fellowship training programs exist that offer additional training after residency training. Many sleep physicians are board certified by the American Board of Sleep Medicine or a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialties. Sleep physicians may have backgrounds in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, and otorhinolaryngology (ENT). (1)
Sleep physicians and other sleep specialists deal with a broad range of sleep disorders including:
Sleep psychologists also have additional training in sleep health and sleep disorders. Psychologists often deal with insomnia and behavior issues pertaining to sleep. Many utilize cognitive behavioral therapy to treat some sleep disorders.
Many dentists specialize in the recognition and treatment of sleep apnea using dental devices and oral appliances.
Well, lets back up a bit. First, if you are having signs or symptoms of a sleep disorder, your first step is to talk to your primary care provider. Are you sleepy during the daytime regularly? Has your bed partner told you that you gasp during sleep, or that there are regular pauses in your breathing? Do you often awaken feeling unrefreshed? Do you feel sleep deprived? These are symptoms of some sleep disorders. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. If your healthcare provider feels that you need further evaluation, you may be referred to a sleep doctor and/or a sleep center for sleep evaluation and a sleep study. There are sleep centers in every state and every major city.
Although there many behavioral improvements that people can make on their own if they have the resources and correct information, generally it is beneficial to consider a sleep specialist if the individual continues to have difficulties during the night and daytime after a few weeks.
Sleep doctors work in several different types of locations. Some work in the sleep medicine field part-time and in another field like pulmonology, neurology, internal medicine, psychology, pediatrics, or ENT surgery. Some sleep doctors work in private practice. Others work in hospitals. There are sleep doctors in every major city of the United States. Some sleep doctors are now using sleep telemedicine to reach patients remotely so that they can be seen in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. (2)
There are several pathways to becoming a sleep professional. First, you have decide if you want to be a physician or non-physician doctoral professional. Non-physicians are often Ph.D's who come from various backgrounds - often psychology. Physicians generally complete four years of medical school, and then complete post-graduate training which includes internship and residency. (3) This may take 3 - 5 years. After residency aspiring sleep doctor physicians usually complete a specialized sleep medicine fellowship. This is usually another 1-2 years.
The formal name for a sleep doctor is "somnologist" - from the root 'somnus', meaning sleep.
American Sleep Association - Providing information about Dr. Sleep since 2002.
Visit the ASA Ask the Sleep Doctor Section to find out more about sleep doctors, sleep psychologists, sleep dentists and other sleep specialists.
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