Some providers focus on all aspects of sleep, while others treat just one type of sleep disorder. For example, you may see a pulmonologist (lung expert) for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
In this article, you’ll learn when you should see a sleep specialist, how to find the right one, and what to expect at an appointment.
When to See a Sleep Specialist
If you have or suspect a sleep disorder, the first step is to let your primary care provider know about it. Sleep problems that you should bring up include:
- Waking up gasping for air or due to loud snoring
- Regularly taking 30 minutes or more to fall asleep
- Frequently waking up at night and struggling to get back to sleep
- Waking up too early in the morning to feel rested
- Feeling especially tired even after a full night's sleep
- Being unable to function during the day due to fatigue
- Falling asleep at inappropriate times (such as while driving)
- Sleep paralysis (being aware of your surroundings but unable to move)
- Frequent nightmares, especially if they’re associated with sleep paralysis or falling asleep
- Sleepwalking or other abnormal sleep behaviors
- Getting creeping, tingling, crawling, or “twitchy” feelings in your legs as you relax
- Episodes of sudden muscle weakness or collapsing (cataplexy) when you experience a strong emotion
Your primary care provider may try to diagnose and treat your sleep disorder or your provider may send you to a specialist.
You may be unaware of some symptoms of sleep disorders because they only happen when you sleep. If you share a bed or bedroom with someone, ask if they’ve noticed that you:
- Snore heavily
- Stop breathing periodically during sleep
- Have excessive arm or leg movements while you sleep
How to Find a Sleep Specialist
Your primary care provider may refer you to a sleep specialist. You may need to find one on your own, though, or make sure the provider you’re referred to is right for you.
First, check with your health insurance company to see what sleep experts in your area are covered. You may also want to ask friends and family for recommendations.
Questions to Ask
- Do you diagnose and treat my sleep disorder/suspected sleep disorder?
- Are you covered by my insurance?
- How long will it take to get an appointment?
- What testing am I likely to need?
- What treatments do you typically recommend for my sleep disorder?
- Are you open to complementary or alternative treatments (if this is important to you)?
As you search, keep in mind any possible diagnoses you or your healthcare provider suspect. That can help you narrow your focus to the sleep experts who treat the right types of sleep disorders.
Types of Sleep Specialists
Several types of healthcare providers can specialize in one or more sleep problems. The full-time sleep specialists include:
- Board-certified sleep medicine physician: Diagnoses and treats all sleep disorders and may be the head of a multidisciplinary team
- Sleep technologists: Helps the doctor with specialized diagnostic tests and ongoing care of your sleep disorder
- Sleep surgeon: Performs procedures to help with snoring and sleep apnea
Other specialists who may treat some sleep disorders are:
- Pulmonologists and respiratory therapists: Breathing-related problems (sleep apnea)
- Behavioral sleep medicine specialists (psychologists and psychiatrists): Sleep-related thoughts and behaviors (poor sleep hygiene, insomnia, parasomnia)
- Neurologists: Problems of the brain and nervous system (CSA, insomnia, narcolepsy, and RLS)
- Otolaryngologists: Problems related to the ear, nose, and throat (snoring, palate stiffening, obstructive tonsils or adenoids, nasal breathing problems)
- Dentists and oral/maxillofacial surgeons: Problems with the mouth and jaw (sleep apnea, tooth grinding)
- Pediatricians: Sleep problems in children
Depending on your symptoms or diagnosis, you may see one or more of these specialists.
What to Expect
When you see a sleep specialist, one of the first things they’ll likely ask you to do is keep a sleep journal. This should list:
- Your sleep habits, such as bedtime routines
- The times you go to bed and wake up
- How long it takes you to fall asleep
- How often you wake up
- Symptoms you may notice overnight
- How you feel upon waking
You may want to start tracking this before you see the specialist. It might speed up the diagnostic process.
The specialist will likely:
- Perform a physical exam and/or neurological exam
- Review your medications and supplements for anything that could cause your symptoms
- Ask about lifestyle factors that could be contributing
Some sleep disorders, such as insomnia, are diagnosed based on your symptoms and medical history. Others may include polysomnography (a sleep study).
Sleep studies are done overnight with special equipment, either in a sleep clinic or in your home. This is typically done to diagnose sleep apnea or circadian rhythm disorders, and confirm a diagnosis of insomnia, narcolepsy, RLS, or other sleep disorder
During the study, machines will gather information on your:
- Brain waves
- Eye movements
- Breathing rate
- Blood pressure
- Heart rate
- Electrical activity in the muscles
The sleep specialist may also order tests of your blood and/or urine to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
Sleep specialists diagnose and treat sleep disorders. You may need to see one if you have trouble sleeping, have excessive daytime fatigue, or experience other symptoms tied to sleep. Many types of healthcare professionals can treat sleep problems. The type of provider you see will depend on your symptoms. Further testing may eliminate other possible conditions.
A Word From Verywell
Sleep is an essential component of health. If you suspect a sleep disorder, know that it could have a major impact on your life and functionality. Some, like sleep apnea, can even be fatal. If you suspect a sleep disorder, talk to your healthcare provider right away and ask whether you need to see a sleep specialist.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to see a sleep specialist?
In the United States, the average cost for an appointment with a specialist is about $250. An overnight sleep study can cost hundreds or even several thousand dollars. Much or all of that may be covered by insurance.
Is a sleep specialist worth it?
Whether seeing a sleep specialist is worth it depends on your outcome. If you have an undiagnosed, untreated, or undertreated sleep disorder, treatment can improve your health and quality of life. It may also be valuable if your provider discovers a serious condition that’s causing sleep problems.
When should I see a sleep specialist?
See a sleep specialist if you suspect a sleep disorder and your healthcare provider can't or won't diagnose and treat it. You may also want to see one if you’re dissatisfied with how your diagnosed sleep disorder is being treated.