Just like other specialists in the medical field, sleep doctors are board certified licensed medical doctors who have chosen to specialize in a specific area of medicine.  If you break a bone, you go to an orthopedic doctor, if you have a heart problem, you see a cardiologist.  Sleep doctors are no different than these other specialists.

The primary difference between your regular doctor and a sleep doctor is that they have different areas of focus, may have different specialties, and a sleep doctor has been certified in the sub-specialty of sleep medicine.  Both doctors have a medical degree and are licensed to practice medicine.  Both doctors may be certified in internal or family medicine.  Both doctors can work with you on managing your sleep.  However, if your regular doctor feels that your issues sleeping may be the result of a sleep disorder, he or she may recommend that you make an appointment with a sleep doctor.

Specialists in sleep medicine have specific training and experience diagnosing and treating sleep disorders.  Your regular doctor learned about sleep disorder diagnosis and treatment as part of their medical education, but not to the same depth of understanding as a sleep doctor.


Requirements for Certification

According to the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM), which is responsible for administering the examination that leads to certification as a specialist in sleep medicine, a person must have the following to qualify for certification:

  • an undergraduate degree
  • an advanced degree from a medical school
  • a certification in internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, or otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat)
  • a valid and unrestricted license to practice medicine
  • a 12 month sleep medicine fellowship that includes the clinical care of patients with sleep disorders, the examination and evaluation of at least 400 patients, and the interpretation of 200 polysomnograms and 25 multiple sleep latency tests from raw data
  • a passing score on the sleep medicine certification exam

Alternatively, if a doctor was certified in Sleep Medicine prior to 2007 by the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM), they can apply for certification through the ABIM.


When You Should See a Sleep Doctor

If you are having trouble sleeping, make an appointment with your regular doctor to discuss the problem.  It is a good idea to keep a sleep diary for a week or two before your appointment so that you can provide your doctor with a good picture of your current sleep experience.  During your appointment, discuss your sleep concerns and ask your doctor if you need a referral to a sleep specialist.  If you are experiencing the following problems, you may want to request a referral rather than ask for your doctor’s opinion:

  1. You have excessive daytime sleepiness that has not been affected by improving your sleep hygiene or getting adequate amounts of sleep each night.
  2. You suspect you may have sleep apnea because you snore or your partner has heard you gasp, choke, or stop breathing while you were sleeping.
  3. You have times when you cannot remain awake even though you are doing something else and regardless of how much sleep you got the night before.

Each of these can be signs of a serious sleep disorder that may be significantly impacting your overall health and wellbeing.


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