When you’re having trouble sleeping, sometimes there comes a point at which you exhaust everything you can do on your own. You try melatonin, eat sleep-inducing snacks, and develop a good sleep routine. And yet, quality sleep evades you.
At this point, it’s likely time to visit a sleep specialist. If you’re wondering what a sleep specialist does exactly—and how to find a sleep doctor in the first place—read on for everything you need to know.
What is a sleep specialist?
“A sleep specialist is a healthcare provider that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders and disturbances,” says Shantha Gowda, PsyD, board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist.
Some sleep specialists may have narrower expertise or specialization in specific areas of sleep or sleep disorders, she adds.
According to Gowda, these providers tend to fall within three categories: sleep medicine specialists, behavioral sleep medicine specialists, and dental sleep medicine specialists.
- Sleep medicine specialists are medical doctors, or MDs, who “chose to specialize in sleep by completing a fellowship in sleep medicine,” Gowda says. “MDs from a variety of specialties may choose to do this,” although, most commonly, they’re neurologists, pulmonologists, internal medicine physicians (internists), family medicine physicians, psychiatrists, otolaryngologists, anesthesiologists, and pediatricians.
- Behavioral sleep medicine specialists are “often psychologists who complete a fellowship in behavioral sleep medicine,” Gowda says. “They focus on the evaluation and treatment of sleep disorders and disturbances by addressing behavioral, psychological, and physiological factors that interfere with sleep.”
- Dental sleep medicine specialists are “dentists trained in dental sleep medicine and focus on the use of oral appliance therapy to treat sleep-disordered breathing, specifically obstructive sleep apnea (OSA),” Gowda explains.
When should you see a sleep specialist?
“You should see a sleep specialist if you are struggling with sleep in any capacity,” Gowda says. Additionally, she says some common examples that warrant a visit to a sleep specialist include but aren’t limited to:
- You snore or gasp for air while you sleep (your bed partner may be the one to point this out to you).
- You feel sleepy during the day and can easily doze off even after what seems like a sufficient night of sleep.
- You have difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep throughout the night.
- You have excessive worry about your sleep in general (your sleep’s impact on your functioning during the day, your long-term health, etc.).
- You have difficulty adjusting to jet lag or shift work schedules.
- You’re concerned about unusual behaviors at night (acting out nightmares, sleepwalking, sleep paralysis, etc.)
- You want help working with your newborn/infant/child/teenager on their sleep.
- You’re interested in learning more about how you can maintain healthy sleep and prevent poor sleep in the future.
Sleep doctors can help diagnose and treat a variety of sleep disorders, adds Gowda. These can include:
- Sleep-disordered breathing
- Circadian rhythm disorders
- Restless legs
- Pediatric sleep problems
“They can also provide you with sleep education and strategies to help you manage your sleep lifelong,” she says.
How do you find a sleep specialist near you?
If you’re wondering how to find a sleep doctor that treats sleep disorders or any other sleep issues you’re dealing with, it’s a good idea to start with your primary care doctor. They can provide a recommendation for the specific challenge you’re dealing with.
As Gowda shares, you can also:
- Contact your insurance provider to see which sleep specialists are covered under your plan.
- Search the Internet with the search term “sleep doctor near me” to find specialists in your area. Set up a time to speak with the clinic or specialist, ask questions, and read through their credentials and any reviews that may be available.
- Go through accredited directories. This is an easy way to find a sleep specialist near you since you can search by location. “You can access these directories from each board’s website,” Gowda says. These include the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Narcolepsy Network, Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine, and American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine.
Other options include getting a referral from family or friends or contacting local hospitals for recommendations.
How should you prepare for your appointment with a sleep specialist?
There are some ways you can prepare for your first appointment with a sleep doctor. Gowda’s top tips include:
- Jot down your main concerns before your appointment so you don’t forget to convey anything important.
- Be prepared to share: What exactly about your sleep are you concerned about? What treatments (medications or otherwise) have you tried before? What are your goals with treatment?
“This appointment is a great opportunity for you to ask any questions you have about your sleep problems and treatment options,” she says.
What doctor should I see if I can’t sleep?
It depends on the sleep challenge you’re facing. Providers tend to fall within three categories: sleep medicine specialists, behavioral sleep medicine specialists, and dental sleep medicine specialists.
While sleep medicine specialists are geared toward sleep in general, behavioral sleep medicine specialists can help with sleep issues that are psychological in nature and dental sleep medicine specialists can help with obstructive sleep apnea.
When should I see a sleep specialist?
If you’re struggling with sleep in any capacity, it’s time to make an appointment with a specialist, says Gowda. This is especially true if you’re noticing things like feeling overly sleepy during the day, having trouble falling and staying asleep, or acting out unusual behaviors in your sleep.
How can I find a sleep doctor near me?
There’s a wide variety of ways to locate a sleep doctor near you. You can ask your primary physician for a referral, search accredited directories, or turn to Google to find a doctor and read reviews.
Can’t seem to fall—and stay—asleep? Learn about cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, a popular treatment option.