The price of catching fewer than 40 winks can truly be great. The good news is that there are more people taking advantage of sleep resources.
"There's been an explosion of sleep medicine utilization in the last 10 years, and that correlates with an increased recognition that sleep disorders are an important part of a health picture overall," says Russell Rosenberg, PhD, director of the Northside Hospital Sleep Medicine Institute in Atlanta.
In 2001, the AASM estimated 1,292 sleep facilities in the U.S. This year, the estimate has grown to 1,822, and that number might be conservative. Kathleen McCann, a spokeswoman for the AASM, says she's heard estimates as high as 6,000 for sleep facilities in the U.S. Yet she considers the AASM survey to be reasonable.
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.