Up all night, counting sheep? It might be time to call in an expert.
At almost every party I go to, I meet someone who asks the simple question,
"So, what do you do?" When I answer, "I'm a sleep specialist,"
my wife begins looking around for a nice, comfy spot to sit because she knows
it may be a while.
"Really?" says my new acquaintance. "That sounds interesting.
Can I ask you some questions?" And off we go.
What is a sleep specialist? Often, sleep specialists are in
the medical or psychology fields (with degrees such as MD, PhD, or DO) and have
specialty training in sleep medicine and sleep disorders. According to the
American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM), 3,249 sleep specialists were
practicing in the United States in 2005.
Do sleep specialists have certain credentials? Yes. In
fact, the ABSM is a recent member of the American Board of Medical Specialties.
Anyone who takes and passes the ABSM board has the privilege of placing the
following after their name: Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine,
or simply D, ABSM.
What do they treat? Sleep disorders number around 88, but
most sleep specialists spend much of their time treating the top five:
insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, and periodic limb
movements. About one-third of the population has some form of insomnia at any
given time, and 10% of that group has chronic insomnia. According to the
National Sleep Foundation, a large majority (75%) of Americans say they've had
at least one symptom of a sleep problem a few nights a week or more within the
Why would I go to a sleep specialist? The most common
reason is that you are not getting the quality or quantity of sleep you need to
feel rested and energetic during the day. Also, your primary care doctor,
family practice doctor, or internist may send you to a specialist based on
What happens when I see a sleep specialist? He or she will
ask you questions to determine if your symptoms qualify you for a diagnostic
test called a polysomnogram, where you sleep with about 25 electrodes attached
to your body so a technician can watch your brainwaves, heart rate, eye
movement, muscle tensing, leg twitching, air flow in and out of your mouth and
nose, and chest wall movement.
If your sleep specialist does not feel that you need a sleep test, he or she
may prescribe a medication or refer you to another specialist, such as a
How are sleep disorders treated? There are many possible
treatments. Behavioral therapies, such as talk therapy, and lifestyle changes
are options. Say you don't sleep well because your bed partner sleeps with the
TV on. The solution is to get rid of the TV, not give you medication to sleep
through it. Several medications treat insomnia and other sleep disorders, and
treatments for sleep apnea may include medical devices and dental appliances
that help you breathe at night. Surgery helps some disorders.
If I have not cured my questioner's insomnia with these basics, he may ask
me about dream interpretation. I try to stop him before he confides he dreamed
he was naked in high school during final exams. Dream interpretation just isn't