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 patients."
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 sleep."
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 subjects.
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 specialties.
Accrediting a Sleep Center
Another option for people with sleep problems is a visit to a sleep center. But make sure it is accredited, say experts.
"There's a high quality standard and guidelines for care that (centers) have to meet the requirements for, and not all sleep laboratories could meet those criteria," says Rosenberg. "At least you know, at minimum, accredited centers have those criteria."