Help for Sleep Woes
Can't get your full night's worth of shut-eye? WebMD has some suggestions.
The Sleep Medicine Frontier continued...
With so much out there, Kathe Henke, PhD, technical director for the Sleep
Disorders Center of Virginia in Richmond, worries that many patients don't
always tap into the best possible resources for help. Sometimes they may go to
sleep labs that do only testing and forgo the comprehensive examination and
interview that many well-regarded sleep specialists do.
"People may go for a sleep test, and they have a complaint that sounds
like they may have sleep apnea," Henke says as an example. "They have
their test done and they find they don't have sleep apnea, but that doesn't
mean there isn't some other sleep disorder."
Detecting the Cause
In sleep laboratories where only diagnostic testing is done, problems can be
missed and nothing else may be done to identify them.
To get the most out of sleep medicine, Henke recommends seeing a specialist
that is certified in sleep medicine by the American Board of Sleep Medicine
(ABSM). She also recommends a specialist with sleep medicine as a primary
focus, and one that does more than just testing.
Many experts consulted by WebMD agree, but also noted it's important to
start out with a visit to a primary care doctor to rule out any other medical
conditions. Then, if appropriate, get a referral to a board-certified sleep
specialist or to an accredited sleep center.
A Board-Certified Specialist Defined
"Sleep specialists are the health care professionals who are trained to
provide the best diagnosis of treatment for people with sleep disorders,"
says Epstein. "To be a sleep specialist, you must first undergo specialized
training. There are now formal fellowship programs for people to devote at
least a year to learning about sleep disorders, and then practice it ... with
Sleep specialists become board-certified after they successfully meet
experience requirements and pass an examination administered by the ABSM.
Before taking the exam, candidates must complete one year of full-time
training in sleep medicine after finishing at least three years of residency
training. This means applicants need training in one or more medical
specialties such as internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, neurology,
psychiatry, or pediatrics.
"Having knowledge from other specialties is a big help," says
Epstein. "Sleep covers so much. It has a neurologic basis in terms of the
pathways of the brain involved in sleep. We need to know about the effects of
sleep on heart and lung function. We need to know how emotional upset affects
The ABSM examination tests the applicant's general knowledge of
sleep-related subjects. In order to pass the exam, candidates must answer
questions about physiology, neuroanatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology,
endocrinology, psychophysiology, and pediatric sleep disorders, among other
In short, candidates must demonstrate their breadth of knowledge in medical
specialties related to sleep in order to obtain certification.
The American Board of Sleep Medicine will continue to test candidates for
board certification until 2007. At that time, the American Board of Medical
Specialties (ABMS), will administer the exam. The ABMS is a widely respected
nonprofit organization that oversees doctor certification in dozens of medical