What is Sleep Medicine?

Sleep Medicine is a new field of medicine dedicated to evaluating and managing individuals with sleep disorders.  It is made up of practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds including internal medicine/pulmonary, otolaryngology/ear nose and throat, neurology, psychiatry, family medicine, pediatrics, family medicine and anesthesiology.   Board certification in Sleep Medicine is reached through fellowship training and/or through extensive clinical experience.  Sleep Medicine physicians must pass an Board certification examination every 10 years and maintain regular continuing medical education credits.

The most common conditions evaluated by sleep medicine physicians are insomnia, sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. As I mentioned, the field is quite diverse.  As a result, physicians with different backgrounds are more likely to have expertise in managing certain sleep disorders.  For example, an ear nose and throat physician, is most adept at evaluating and managing patients with sleep apnea and snoring since they are very familiar with the upper airway anatomy.  Similarly, a neurologist will be considered more of an expert in evaluating someone with restless legs syndrome or narcolepsy since it involves problems with the nervous system.   It is possible that even if someone is seeing a sleep medicine physician, they may not be the ideal person to evaluate a particular sleep condition.  For example, a pulmonologist is probably not ask adept as a pulmonologist at evaluating and treating insomnia.

Most hospitals and heathcare organizations will have sleep medicine physicians on their staff.  Most healthcare websites will have a ‘find by specialty’ option which would allow people to identify the sleep medicine physicians.

Sleep medicine physicians are actively involved in oversight of sleep laboratories where patients with certain sleep conditions are tested.  The sleep physician oversees the testing protocols and oversight of the sleep laboratory staff.  He/she will be responsible for reviewing the data collected from overnight sleep studies and generating an interpretation.  The most common diagnosis rendered from a sleep study would be obstructive sleep apnea, a condition characterized by restricted airflow caused by upper airway narrowing.  The most common symptoms are snoring, non-restorative sleep and daytime sleepiness.