Sleep Rx

Up all night, counting sheep? It might be time to call in an expert.

From the WebMD Archives

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 past year.

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 overall symptoms.

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.