How to Choose a Sleep Doctor

If you are having difficulties sleeping, you may need a referral to a sleep specialist, but how should you choose a sleep doctor? In some cases, your primary care physician will select for you based on the available resources, but you may have more options in the matter.

There are specific characteristics that you should consider when selecting a specialist so that you get the appropriate testing and help that you need. Discover what a sleep specialist is, what training and board certification credentials are required, and how to select the right sleep doctor with the necessary resources to help you.

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Who Is My Sleep Specialist?

Many individuals will be involved in your care if you seek treatment for a sleep disorder. You will likely start your evaluation with your primary care provider. This may result in a referral to a sleep specialist, most often a physician but sometimes a mid-level provider such as a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant working under the supervision of a physician.

There may be ancillary staff involved as well, including polysomnographic technologists who do the sleep studies. One of the most important considerations is the selection of your sleep doctor and the center that will provide your testing and treatment.

Training Includes Residency and Fellowship

Healthcare providers who are certified as sleep specialists have many years of education. To become a practitioner, they have graduated from college with a four-year degree and attend an additional four years of medical school.

Next, they complete a medical residency lasting from three years to five years and then a fellowship in sleep medicine (usually one year). Healthcare providers may pursue a sleep fellowship after training in many specialties, including:

  • Pulmonary medicine
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry
  • Otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat specialists)
  • Family medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Internal medicine

Some healthcare providers may dabble in sleep medicine, even if they do not have formal board certification in it. Board-certified sleep doctors have completed the required training and have passed a national examination demonstrating their expertise. They are also required to demonstrate continuing medical education and recertify by retaking the board examination every 10 years.

Finding a Sleep Specialist With Credentials

No matter the specialty training, it is advisable to seek out a healthcare provider who is certified with appropriate sleep medicine credentials from the American Board of Medical Specialties. This tells you that your healthcare provider’s education has been verified and that they have passed a board examination that tests their knowledge of sleep medicine.

If you are to undergo additional sleep testing beyond a clinic evaluation, as most people do, you may want to find a sleep center with accreditation from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. In some cases, it may be helpful to travel to a larger community nearby that has adequate resources.

Selecting a Healthcare Provider Who Is Right for You

Finding a sleep specialist can be a little intimidating. You may rely on your healthcare provider, friends, or family for recommendations. It may be helpful to read online physician reviews available through various websites by searching the practitioner's name. Make sure the provider will be accessible to you and that you can get the support that you need to evaluate and treat your condition.

Once you have found a reputable provider, you will want to evaluate whether they can meet your needs. It is essential to consider how your condition will be assessed. You will want to select a center that can provide a thorough and appropriate evaluation, including any necessary testing such as:

  • Polysomnography
  • Home sleep apnea testing
  • Multiple sleep latency testing (MSLT)
  • Maintenance of wakefulness testing (MWT)

As part of this consideration, you may need to take into account cost as well as your insurance coverage. If you have insomnia, you may want to find someone who can provide cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI).

The resources available to you are always expanding, and with a little research, you should be able to find a reputable sleep specialist to meet your needs.

2 Sources
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  1. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The sleep team.

  2. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The path to sleep medicine.

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.