What Types of Doctors Treat Sleep Disorders?
Different types of sleep disorders have different causes. Someone with simple sleep issues may find relief by following the advice of their family doctor. But, if sleep problems continue it may be time to see a doctor who is a sleep specialist at a sleep center.
A doctor who specializes in sleep disorders is also called a somnologist. A sleep disorder doctor may be a physician or psychologist.1 These people may also work with nurse practitioners or physician assistants. A person with complex reasons for their sleep problem may need to see a group of professionals at a sleep center.
What is a sleep center?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) sets standards for medical facilities that specialize in treating sleep disorders. Called certified sleep centers, these clinics bring together all of the different types of specialists needed to treat sleep issues.
A board-certified sleep medicine doctor leads the center. Board-certified means that this doctor received extra training in a certain field. They also must pass a test to prove their knowledge, and continue taking classes to stay up-to-date on the latest news in their field.
Find an accredited sleep center near you on the AASM website.
What kind of doctors treat sleep disorders?
Your family doctor, pediatrician, or internist may be able to help diagnose and treat simple sleep disorders, especially those that improve with better sleep habits. If you continue to have problems getting enough sleep, or good quality sleep, you may be referred to a sleep specialist. Sometimes neurologists or pulmonologists specialize in treating sleep disorders.
A board-certified sleep specialist will be able to diagnose and treat your sleep disorder. Sometimes, your sleep doctor will refer you to another member of the sleep team for specific treatments. These types of specialists include:2
- Psychiatrists and psychologists for mental health and sleep behavior issues
- Otorhinolaryngologists (ENT) for ear, nose, and throat conditions
- Dentists and oral and maxillofacial surgeons for tooth and jaw issues
What is a sleep study?
A sleep study, or polysomnogram, is a test that records your brain and body functions as you sleep. It requires spending 1 or 2 nights in a sleep lab and is painless. As you sleep, a sleep technologist will monitor your brain waves, eye movement, muscle tone, heartbeat, and breathing. Then, your sleep specialist will use this data to diagnose and treat your sleep disorder.3
When do you need a sleep specialist?
If your primary care doctor has not been able to help, you may need to see a sleep disorders doctor. Signs that you may have a sleep disorder that requires specialized care include:1
- Your sleep problems have lasted more than a few weeks or longer.
- You often feel sleepy during the day.
- Your partner says that you snore loudly, gasp, or stop breathing while sleeping.
- You wake up feeling tired instead of refreshed.
There is some evidence that being treated by a sleep specialist results in better relief from symptoms. One study looked at people with sleep apnea and CPAP use. A CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure machine, is used to regulate the breathing of people with sleep apnea. The study found that those who saw a sleep specialist and were tested in a sleep lab were more likely to:4
- Use their CPAP machines every night
- Be better fitted for their machine
- Understand the importance of using the CPAP consistently