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Decision Assist

Sleep specialist

Introduction

The purpose of this tool is to help you decide whether or not to see a sleep specialist. When making a decision like this, you must balance:

  • The reasons for seeing the specialist
  • Whether there are alternatives that may be more appropriate
  • Cost

This tool is not a substitute for professional medical care and advice. Ask your regular doctor to help you decide whether it is worth seeing a specialist. There is usually no exact “right” or “wrong” answer.

Your physician may make certain recommendations to you. However, the final decision about whether to see a specialist rests with you.

What does the specialist do?

People with sleep problems often see a sleep specialist for testing and treatment.

Sleep disorders involve any problems related to sleeping, including difficulty falling or staying asleep, falling asleep at inappropriate times, excessive total sleep time, or abnormal behaviors associated with sleep.

More than 100 different disorders of sleeping and waking have been identified. They can be grouped in four main categories:

  • Problems with falling and staying asleep
  • Problems with staying awake
  • Problems with adhering to a regular sleep schedule
  • Sleep-disruptive behaviors
Irregular sleep

Sleep disorder testing by a specialist may also be helpful in identifying which category a patient falls under as well as an appropriate treatment program.

Key points

You should probably see a specialist when:

  • Your breathing stops during sleep.
  • You snore loudly.
  • You fall asleep uncontrollably during the day.
  • You have excessive daytime drowsiness.
  • You awaken too early each morning.
  • You wake up several times a night.
  • You have trouble falling asleep.
  • You fall asleep at inappropriate times.

If you are very sleepy, especially if you fall asleep while driving, you need to see a health care provider and arrange testing immediately. You should stop driving until you can get evaluated and treated.

How much time this decision tool will take

  • 5 - 10 minutes

What this tool will provide

  • A personalized list of factors for you to weigh
  • Questions to ask your doctor
  • Alternatives to seeing a specialist
  • Recommended reading

Review Date: 9/12/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

References:
  • Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI). Diagnosis and treatment of obstructive sleep apnea in adults. Bloomington (MN): Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI). Mar 2007.
  • Morgenthaler TI, Kapur VK, Brown T, Swick TJ, Alessi C, Aurora RN, et al. Standards of Practice Committee of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Practice parameters for the treatment of narcolepsy and other hypersomnias of central origin. Sleep. Dec 1, 2007;30(12):1705-11.
  • Mulgrew AT, Fox N, et al. Diagnosis and initial management of obstructive sleep apnea without polysomnography: a randomized validation study. Ann Intern Med. 2007;146(3):157-66.
  • Wilson JF. In the clinic. Insomnia. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148(1):ITC13-1-ITC13-16.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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