Sleep Doctor: The Savior of Your Sleep Disorders

sleep doctor

Are you having trouble falling asleep? Do you regularly wake up gasping and choking? Are you sleepy during the day and feel like you haven’t gotten enough sleep? It’s time for you to consult a sleep doctor if you answered yes to any of the above questions. 

Sleep deprivation can have some pretty negative impacts on your life and your relationships. Sleep specialists are there to help determine what your sleep disorder is and provide you with helpful instructions and treatment to get you back to sleeping well throughout the night

Despite the fact that we spend roughly one-third of our lives sleeping (or at least, we should!), the science of sleep has been historically neglected, with the majority of important discoveries relegated to only the 20th century. While the reasons for and functions of sleep have been speculated about for as long as humans have speculated about anything, it wasn’t until the 1920s that we discovered there are differences between brain wave patterns in sleeping and awake brains. But we’ve progressed quickly since then—nowadays we understand a lot about sleep science (though not nearly everything), and if you want professional advice about sleep, sleep disorders, and what you can do to fix them, you can talk with a sleep doctor.

Do you wonder what are the sleep doctors or sleep specialists and what they can do for you? Let’s take a look at what sleep experts are, what they do, and if you should consult one or not.

What Is a Sleep Doctor?

A sleep specialist or doctor is someone who specializes in sleep disturbances and can diagnose and prescribe appropriate treatment to those afflicted with sleep issues. The specialization is fairly recent in modern medicine and is rapidly evolving, becoming recognized in more countries over the years.

That means that on top of their medical degree, they’ve spent years on additional training (and residencies) to understand why we sleep, how sleep disorders develop, and how to fix them. Though it’s common to refer to the specialist as a sleep doctor or a sleep specialist, the formal name for somebody who who studies sleep is somnologist, which comes from the root somnus, meaning sleep. The improvements in sleep science over the last 100 years have been vast—if you talked to a doctor in 1951 about your problems sleeping, they would not have been able to tell you about the differences between REM and non-REM sleep—REM hadn’t even been discovered yet! Today, there is a vast wealth of knowledge sleep scientists can tap into to help you get the sleep you deserve.

Up to 1999, any doctor could call themselves a sleep doctor, take on patients with sleep disturbances, and prescribe treatments. Now board-certified sleep doctors have the appropriate credentials to work with patients who suffer from sleep disorders. The 12-month postgraduate program is a multi-disciplinary training that involves learning about the numerous sleep disorders that exist, how to make a diagnosis, and prescribe the proper treatment. 

The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems divides sleep disorders into 3 categories.

  1. Primary sleep disorders.
  2. Those secondary to mental disorders.
  3. Those related to a general medical condition or substance abuse.

Nathaniel Kleitman (April 26, 1895 - August 13, 1999) was known as the pioneer of modern sleep research. In 1939 he penned the book Sleep and Wakefulness that became a valuable reference for anyone interested in sleep disorders and treatment options. In 1953, he and his team discovered rapid eye movement (REM) through a series of tests on sleeping test subjects. His initial research was funded by a pharmaceutical company that wished to market a medication for insomnia. His research and numerous findings on sleep have led to the discipline that we know today.

The first sleep labs were introduced in the USA in the 1970s and were initially created to treat obstructive sleep apnea. It quickly became clear that sleep disorders were prevalent in society and were sometimes the cause of many problems such as traffic accidents.

Your sleep doctor will carry out a series of tests to assess the problem at hand and evaluate you. A sleep study may be required to fully diagnose the disorder in order to prescribe the proper treatment. 

Treatment may include medications, a CPAP machine, cognitive behavioral therapy, oral appliances, or even surgery.

Do You Need a Sleep Specialist?

There are many reasons why people don’t get enough restful sleep. It’s a growing health concern that sometimes needs to be taken seriously and consulting with a specialist is often recommended in order to figure out what the problem is. 

Common Sleep Disorders:

A sleep doctor can not only help diagnose, but treat sleep disorders in a way that a standard medical practitioner may not be equipped to. Because some sleep issues can be treated with behavioral changes, it’s important to recognize some of the most common sleep disorders.

Insomnia — Symptoms include difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Sure, we all get a terrible night of sleep here and there, but insomniacs suffer from poor sleep chronically. A sleep scientist might approach this with medication or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Sleep Apnea — Commonly associated with bad snorers, speed apnea symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness and morning headaches. What happens with apnea sufferers is that your breathing is cut off while you sleep, which causes the brain to get a lack of oxygen. Commonly treated with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, sleep apnea is not something to leave untreated.

Restless Leg Syndrome — This is the irresistible urge to move your limbs (you know that twitch people do with their leg when they’re sitting for a long time?). Cutting down on alcohol and caffeine can help, as can regular exercise, but a sleep doctor can help determine if you need medication to be prescribed.

Tooth Grinding (Bruxism) — The symptoms include frequent headaches or having a sore jaw when you wake up in the morning, but it can be pretty difficult to recognize this issue unless you have a bedmate. Around 45 million Americans suffer from bruxism, and sometimes the fix is simply cutting out stressors or anxiety-inducers in your life. You can also sometimes alleviate the effects of bruxism by wearing a sleep mouth guard.

Other common sleep disorders are snoringsleep paralysis and sleepwalking.

You should speak with your primary family doctor and he or she will determine if you need to see a sleep expert if you have any of the above-mentioned sleep disorders or any of the following symptoms:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Wake up groggy
  • Feel sleepy during the day
  • Feel irritable
  • Nap often during the day
  • Experience memory problems
  • Have trouble concentrating

Sleep is vital to optimal health and if your sleep is regularly disrupted and if you don’t get enough restful sleep it can lead to other health issues. 

Your doctor may also specifically recommend a sleep apnea doctor who specializes in this disorder if he or she thinks that you have sleep apnea. Oftentimes, the partner of the sleep apnea sufferer is the one to notice the breathing irregularities in the night. A sleep apnea doctor will request a sleep study to determine your type of sleep apnea. 

You can start to keep a sleep diary so that your doctor can have a history of your sleeping habits. Write down the times you go to sleep, the times you wake in the morning, and all the times you wake up during the night. You can also note the consumption of caffeinated products and alcoholic drinks during the day and the time you had them. 

Why Go To a Sleep Doctor?

Do you find yourself having trouble surrounding your sleep habits? From not being able to fall asleep consistently to an inability to stay awake throughout the day, there are so many things that a sleep doctor can help you understand, and therefore alleviate. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than a third of American adults don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis (do you get 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night? Didn’t think so!). In fact, sleeping less than 7 hours each night is associated with and increased risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Yikes!

But wait—before you go to a sleep doctor, remember that you should always talk to your general physician first. If you’re exhibiting symptoms of sleep disorders, or even feeling less-than-adequately-rested throughout the day, ask your doctor about it. If your healthcare provider can’t give you an adequate evaluation, they’ll refer you to a sleep doctor or sleep center for an evaluation and sleep study. Sometimes, simple behavioral or lifestyle adjustments can be the cure you need—before you head to a sleep center and strap on all those electrodes, ask yourself, “do I go to bed at a consistent time, take steps to alleviate my snoring problems, and exercise regularly?” If you don’t ask yourself that, don’t worry—your primary care doctor will.

Sleep Study by A Sleep Doctor

sleep doctor

A sleep study or polysomnography is conducted in a specialized sleep clinic or lab overnight where you are monitored closely while you sleep to report all disturbances that arise during the night. 

Sleep studies are usually conducted in very comfortable environments that look more like a regular bedroom than a hospital. The goal is to get you to sleep as comfy as possible to produce the best possible reliable results. 

Monitors and sensors are placed on specific parts of your body and measure things like brain waves, breathing patterns, heart rate, snoring frequency, REM cycles, and more. 

Home sleep studies can also provide information for the sleep doctor to analyze. The sleep lab will give you a machine that you bring home with instructions on how to use it. It usually consists of applying monitors to your body and turning on the machine before you go to sleep. The machine will record all data while you sleep. You simply return the machine and the doctor will proceed to analyze the information in order to diagnose your condition.

Both of these techniques work well and you can check with your insurance provider about the coverage for each. Normally, home sleep studies tend to be less expensive than in-lab sleep studies. 

Find a Sleep Doctor Near Me

sleep doctor

Your primary caregiver may recommend a sleep doctor or you may also want to do your own research to find the best suitable one for your needs. Some sleep specialists work in private clinics while others work in hospitals. 

For the best possible results and treatment, make sure you seek out an accredited doctor trained in sleep disturbances. 

Websites like The American Board of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine can be a good start for you to find a local expert in your area or to check the credentials of a specific doctor. 

In Canada, The Canadian Sleep Society can help you find the nearest sleep doctor in your area. Enter your postal code and the list of sleep specialists near you will be provided. 

What is the Future of Sleep Science

In the 1700s, Jean Jacques d’Ortuous de Marian discovered that living creatures (plants included) have an internal clock which guides their daily rhythms. It wasn’t until 1959 that the term “circadian rhythm” was coined. In 1952 Nathaniel Kleitman discovered Rapid Eye Movement (REM), advancing our understanding of sleep cycles. Massive advancements in our understanding of sleep have occurred over the past century, but there are certainly more to come. According to Charlene Gamaldo, medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, “each year Americans are shaving more and more time off of the sleep they get per night… More individuals are doing shift work, and people are distracted in the evening hours by cable TV with 1,000s of channels, computer streaming, binge watching, not to mention our growing dependence on mobile phones and social media.” What does this mean for the future of sleep science? With wearable technology and at-home sleep testing devices becoming not only affordable but more reliable, the future of sleep science is anyone’s guess.

Sleep Doctors Can Help You!

We all know the importance of sleep and the impact of the lack of it can have on our lives. It’s essential to seek out help whenever your life is being affected because you don’t get enough restful sleep at night. Even your partner’s life can be affected by your nocturnal disturbances. 

It’s probably time to consult a sleep expert if you have tried several home remedies without success for your sleep problem. Sleep doctors are experts who will help you find the best possible treatment for you. Several options exist and he or she will discuss which one you would benefit most from. 

Sleep specialists are trained in the diagnosis, treatment, management, and prevention of sleep disorders and sleep problems. If you suspect that you might need treatment from a sleep doctor, don’t be bashful—consult your primary care doctor and they can point you in the right direction! If you’re sleepy all day, you’re not living life to the fullest. If you’re able to see a sleep doctor about getting a better night’s sleep, why wait for another day? A better night of sleep can mean a better day of your life. Let a sleep doctor help you!

With the help of your sleep doctor, getting a good shut-eye and waking up rested and ready for the day could be right around the corner for you.