There are a wide variety of causes of sleeping disorders, and it is vital to pinpoint the cause to find the best treatment. Your general physician might not be the best option to visit if you are dealing with sleep disorders, especially chronic ones. This guide will walk you through the different types of sleep doctors and who you should see about your particular condition.
Why is there such a variety of doctors who specialize in sleep?
In a perfect world, you could visit your family doctor or general physician if you’re having problems with your sleep. However, this is not recommended as they lack the specialized knowledge and training to assess sleep disorders.
Doctors tend to specialize in one condition or another, and sleep disorders is a very specialized niche. Doctors who specialize in sleep disorders can address the cause of the problem and recommend the ideal treatment for lasting results. Your doctor will ask you about the symptoms associated with your sleep disorder to come up with a diagnosis and make the proper treatment recommendation.
Knowing which doctor to see is the first and most important decision in your quest to get the proper treatment.
Types of Doctors to See About Your Sleep Disorder
A primary care doctor can assist you with basic symptoms associated with sleep disorders. Most primary care physicians can help with lifestyle and dietary changes needed to improve one’s sleeping habits. If you are dealing with a more severe case, you need to find a sleep doctor with a higher level of specialization to ensure that you can address the condition before it becomes life-threatening.
Below are some options available for sleep doctors that can treat the common and advanced symptoms.
1. Sleep Doctor (aka Sleep Specialist)
A sleep doctor or specialist is a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. They are trained in internal medicine, neurology, and psychiatry. All sleep doctors must complete four years of medical school and residency as part of their post-graduate training. In addition, a sleep doctor must complete additional fellowship training to specialize in sleep medicine. Before a doctor can be known as a sleep specialist, they must obtain certification from relevant regulating bodies.
As a specialist, a sleep doctor is often the first health professional individuals suffering from sleep disorders see about their condition. Most sleep physicians are knowledgeable and trained in various sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, circadian rhythm disorders, etc.
You need to see a sleep doctor if you experience any or a combination of these symptoms:
- Chronic snoring
- Gasping for air while you sleep
- Feeling exhausted during the day
- Difficulty staying asleep at night
A sleep specialist will conduct various diagnostic procedures and an interview to understand your symptoms. Additional tests might be required depending on the initial diagnosis.
Sleep doctors are now widely available as compared to a few years ago. Therefore, anyone suffering from the symptoms of sleep disorders can find one near your area. You can find one by requesting a referral from your primary health care provider.
Or, you can go to a nearby sleep center where there will most likely be a sleep doctor on duty. A sleep center is a medical facility with the tools and equipment needed to conduct sleep tests. A board-certified sleep doctor typically leads this facility. You can also search online to locate where the nearest sleep specialist is in your area.
Depending on the cause and symptoms of your sleep disorder, your sleep specialist could also refer you to a neurologist. As you age, your brain loses control over your throat muscles, making it less likely to remain taut while you sleep. This process significantly narrows your airways.
Neurologists are doctors that can help address this particular symptom of your sleeping disorder. They are also the go-to option for anyone dealing with brain and nerve issues relating to sleep apnea.
3. ENT Doctors
ENT refers to Ears, Nose, and Throat doctors who specialize in diseases or conditions affecting these structures in your head and face. Therefore, an ENT doctor can help address issues such as narrow airways. In particular, an ENT doctor can help when the narrowing of your airways results from abnormalities in the parts of the body they specialize in, such as your tonsils or tongue.
Your sleep doctor could also refer you to a psychiatrist depending on the symptoms of your sleep disorder. Psychiatric conditions can cause sleep apnea and other similar disorders. Therefore, a psychiatrist would recommend behavioral and lifestyle changes to treat sleep disorders.
Some known lifestyle changes that can improve one’s sleeping habits are losing weight, quitting smoking, and changing your position during sleep. A psychiatrist will work closely with a patient to develop healthy lifestyle modifications to improve a patient’s sleep routine. This approach to treating sleep disorders is often complementary to conventional treatment approaches.
Patients with symptoms associated with sleep disorders like OSA are often referred to a dentist. These doctors have training in diagnosing and treating sleep-related breathing disorders.
If needed, a dentist can custom-fit a special device into the patient’s mouth to facilitate easy breathing during sleep. Dentists will also work closely with a sleep specialist to formulate the best treatment approach to address sleep apnea symptoms.
In extreme cases, a surgeon is needed to help treat the symptoms of sleep disorders. If lifestyle modifications, breathing machines, and oral devices are not enough to help with sleep-related breathing disorders, surgery is the next viable option. A surgeon will perform a procedure to stiffen the muscles in your throat that block the airways during sleep, causing vibrations and snoring.
The exact surgery to be performed will be determined based on the analysis of the patient’s symptoms. Make sure your surgeon explains the benefits and drawbacks of undergoing the procedure.
Having regular good quality sleep is critical to your overall health. You must not delay seeing a sleep doctor or any of the above-listed sleeping doctors for your condition.
Consulting a doctor is a must if the symptoms you’ve experienced are persistent or have lasted for several weeks. Seeking treatment from the right doctor will offer relief from sleeping disorder symptoms and avoid life-threatening conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea.