A sleep specialist is a medical doctor who has completed additional education and training in the field of sleep medicine. Sleep medicine focuses on sleep, sleep disorders, and sleep-related conditions, and is a subspecialty within several medical specialties, including neurology, pulmonology, internal medicine, and psychiatry. Proper sleep plays an important role in good health. Trouble sleeping can reduce the overall quality of life and a chronic lack of sleep may worsen the severity of certain medical conditions, including epilepsy, asthma, and heart disease. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), sleep disorders affect approximately 40 million people in the United States. Sleeping problems often go undiagnosed and untreated and can occur in people of all ages, including children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged adults, and seniors. Sleep specialists are trained in the diagnosis, management, treatment, and prevention of sleep disorders and sleep problems. They often work in sleep centers, also called sleep clinics and sleep labs (laboratories). Sleep medicine specialists diagnose and treat a number of sleep-related conditions, including excessive snoring, sleep apnea (obstructive sleep apnea; OSA), insomnia (inability to sleep or sleep well), narcolepsy (chronic, uncontrollable daytime sleepiness), and circadian rhythm disorders.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 50 to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems that can significantly diminish health, alertness and safety. Untreated sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Sleep problems can take many forms and can involve too little sleep, too much sleep or inadequate quality of sleep. The Institute of Medicine recently estimated in its report, Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem, that “hundreds of billions of dollars a year are spent on direct medical costs related to sleep disorders such as doctor visits, hospital services, prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications.” Sleep problems and lack of sleep can affect everything from personal and work productivity to behavioral and relationship problems. Sleep problems can have serious consequences. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving claims more than 1,500 lives and causes at least 100,000 motor vehicle crashes each year. Compounding the problem is the fact that most people know when to seek medical help for physical discomfort such as fever or pain—but sleep problems are often overlooked or ignored. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people with sleep disorders are undiagnosed and untreated.