In an ideal world, people have a long face-to-face appointment with their primary care doctor at least once a year to discuss overall health and issues. They may share they have breathing problems, high blood pressure, pain in the neck, excess weight, etc.
But, do they tell their doctor if they experience sleeping issues? – Probably not. So, who should they talk to? Is there such a thing as a sleep doctor? Let’s see.
Who is a Sleep Doctor?
Namely, your primary care physician cannot be your sleep doctor and help you solve issues like sleep apnea or insomnia. Instead, in case you suffer from some of those two, you need to visit a specialist.
A sleep doctor is usually a trained internal medicine physician, pulmonologist, ENT, neurologist, or psychiatrist, and has special training in sleep medicine. Those doctors have a special credential in sleep medicine and should pass an exam which allows them to interpret sleeps studies and build a sleep medicine practice.
On the other hand, if a physician doesn’t get the special credential but is still interested in getting additional sleep medicine training, he/she can also help you solve your sleeping issues.
Primary Care Physicians
Typically, a primary care physician is a generalist who refers patients out to specialists. But, nowadays, primary care doctors are also managing a great number of medical issues and conditions without referring patients to specialists, including sleep issues like insomnia or sleep apnea.
And, due to the fact that sleep issues have become very common, these physicians usually ask their patients about their sleep, and based on the answers they may order a sleep study which can be performed either in a sleep center or at your home. Based on the results of the study, your physician will be able to discuss the steps needed to address the problem.
Now, let’s have a look at which specialists can manage sleep issues:
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one of the most common sleep issues people face. People suffering from OSA basically stop breathing while asleep as a result of a blocked airway. And, since pulmonologists deal with breathing disorders and conditions like asthma or COPD, they are also well trained to deal with sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
We already mentioned that obstructive sleep apnea results in breathing issues due to blockage in the airway. But, there are also some other sleep issues like central sleep apnea, insomnia, and narcolepsy which are typically linked to neurological problems. However, if you suspect you have obstructive sleep apnea, your primary care physician shouldn’t refer you to a neurologist, but a pulmonologist or ENT. Yet, if you experience symptoms that correlate with a neurological cause, you should then visit a neurologist.
ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat)
An ENT, also known as an otolaryngologist, is a doctor specialized in treating issues connected with the ears, nose, and throat. And, as we already said, sleep apnea, and snoring also, is usually a result of a blocked airway, especially in the throat. So, if you visit an otolaryngologist, they will instantly see if you have any blockages. Based on their examination, they may recommend surgery, CPAP, or order a sleep study.
Finally, psychiatrists can also be sleep doctors and they usually have many patients suffering from sleep disorders like sleep apnea, insomnia, or narcolepsy. The reason for this is that these disorders result in daytime sleepiness, anxiety, and even depression which is why psychiatrists can be considered sleep doctors too.