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Specialty Description

What is a sleep medicine specialist?

Sleep medicine is a multidisciplinary subspecialty of family medicine, internal medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, neurology and otolaryngology. It is a discipline of medical practice in which sleep disorders are assessed, monitored, treated and prevented by using a combination of techniques (clinical evaluation, physiologic testing, imaging and intervention) and medication.

Specialists in sleep medicine are expected to:

  • Participate in an interdisciplinary care of patients of all ages that incorporates aspects of psychiatry, neurology, internal medicine, epidemiology, surgery, pediatrics and basic science

  • Acquire detailed knowledge of the sleep and respiratory control centers, physiology, and neurobiology underlying sleep and wakefulness

  • Diagnose and manage sleep disorder patients in outpatient and inpatient settings

This subspecialty includes the clinical assessment, polysomnographic evaluation and treatment of sleep disorders, including insomnias, disorders of excessive sleepiness (e.g., narcolepsy), sleep-related breathing disorders (such as obstructive sleep apnea), parasomnias, circadian rhythm disorders, sleep-related movement disorders and other conditions pertaining to the sleep-wake cycle.

What does a sleep medicine specialist do?

Specialists in sleep medicine possess a detailed knowledge of sleep-wake physiology, including neural systems that control sleep and wake processes and their respective neurotransmitters; sleep- and circadian rhythm–related changes in physiology (autonomic nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, renal, gastrointestinal, endocrine, immune, etc.); medications and their effects on sleep and wakefulness; and the bidirectional relationship between sleep and medical, neurologic and psychiatric disorders.

Sleep medicine specialists treat sleep-/wake-related disorders using devices, surgical interventions, medications and behavioral therapies. They utilize diagnostic tools in their treatment such as validated sleep questionnaires, actigraphy, polysomnography and portable sleep apnea monitors in outpatient and inpatient settings.

Career opportunities in sleep medicine include academic, private practice and/or research positions.