March 02, 2021

What is a Sleep Clinic and When to Visit One?

If you've ever spent a night tossing and turning, then you've probably already experienced uncomfortable symptoms of daytime tiredness and sleep deprivation.

But missing out on your nightly shut-eye does more than make you feel tired and grumpy.

The effects of sleep deprivation can take a toll on your overall health and impact your personal relationships. Take a look at the common effects of sleep problems.

Common Effects of Sleep Deprivation:

  • memory issues
  • trouble thinking and concentrating
  • weakened immunity
  • mood changes
  • high blood pressure
  • risk of heart disease
  • poor balance
  • risk of diabetes
  • poor sex drive
  • weight gain

If this sounds familiar or at least alarming, then it's a good idea to consult with your health care provider about your sleeping habits as they relate to your health.

Your primary care healthcare provider may diagnose and treat your problem or refer you to a sleep specialist, who can figure out why you're not sleeping well and find solutions to help you get the rest you need.

If it's the first time you hear about a sleep specialist, let us walk you through what these specialists can do for you.

What Is a Sleep Specialist?

A sleep specialist or sleep technician is a health professional who addresses sleep problems, sleep disorders, and sleep health and after testing provide you with a diagnosis and treatment plan. A sleep doctor may be a sleep physician or a sleep psychologist. Each type of sleep specialist deals with different aspects of sleep health.

Sleep specialists may have backgrounds in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, and otorhinolaryngology (ENT).

Sleep doctors and other sleep specialists and sleep technicians deal with a broad range of sleep disorders, including:

  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • insomnia
  • restless legs syndrome
  • periodic leg movement disorder
  • narcolepsy
  • hypersomnia
  • sleepwalking
  • circadian rhythm disorders
  • and other sleep disorders

What Are Sleep Disorders?

Sleep disorders involve problems with the quality, timing, and amount of sleep, which result in daytime distress and impairment in functioning.  

Some of the signs and symptoms of sleep disorders include excessive daytime sleepiness, irregular breathing, or increased movement during sleep. Other signs and symptoms include an irregular sleep and wake cycle and difficulty falling asleep.

Some common types of sleep disorders include:

  • Insomnia, in which you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night.
  • Sleep apnea, in which you experience abnormal patterns in breathing while you are asleep. There are several types of sleep apnea.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS), a type of sleep movement disorder, also called Willis-Ekbom disease, which causes an uncomfortable sensation and an urge to move the legs while you try to fall asleep.
  • Narcolepsy, a condition characterized by extreme sleepiness during the day and falling asleep suddenly during the day.

Finding a Sleep Specialist

Sleep specialists may work in private practices, while others work in hospitals or sleep clinics.

One way to find a sleep specialist is to ask your primary care healthcare provider for a referral. You can also search for an accredited sleep center through an organization like the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

And you can also check with your insurance company to see which sleep specialists are covered under your plan. 

What are Sleep Clinics - and what to expect?

Many sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can be difficult to diagnose while you're awake, so doctors use sleep clinics or sleep labs to monitor patients overnight. While most sleep studies are set up to resemble private hotel rooms (to encourage you to fall asleep), you'll technically be in a medical sleep lab. 

Each room has a bed and equipment that can help detect sleep problems by monitoring brain wave activity, eye movement, heart rate, oxygen levels, snoring, airflow during sleep, stages of sleep, body movements, and more using electrodes to record information during sleep.

Sleep technologists perform sleep evaluations, comprehensive testing, and therapy and also do follow-up care. The end goal is to understand why you are having trouble sleeping and find the appropriate form of care, such as continuous positive airway pressure using a cpap machine.

Sleep Clinics are dedicated to the management of sleep disorders and their symptoms. Experts trained in sleep medicine, including doctors trained in lung and breathing conditions (pulmonologists), brain and nervous system conditions (neurologists), and mental health conditions (psychiatrists), have experience diagnosing and treating people with sleep disorders. 

In some cases, sleep medicine teams may also work with specialists trained in ear, nose, and throat conditions to evaluate and help define the course of therapy. These are some of the services you may find in a sleep clinic.

Sleep Center Services

  • Diagnosis and treatment of sleep-disordered breathing and snoring
  • Radiofrequency ablation of problem sleep areas (somnoplasty/coblation)
  • Nonsurgical treatment of sleep apnea including CPAP/BIPAP and dental appliances
  • Multilevel surgical treatment of snoring and sleep apnea
  •  Polysomnogram
  • Multiple Sleep Latency Test (test for narcolepsy, an uncontrollable urge to sleep)
  • Split night polysomnography
  • CPAP titration studies
  • BiPAP titration studies
  • Home sleep studies
  • Home sleep apnea testing
  • Adaptive Servo-Ventilation titration studies (test for Central Sleep Apnea and Cheyne's Disease)
  • Maintenance of Wakefulness Test (MWT) 
  • Pediatric polysomnography
  • Insomnia
  • Evaluation for Periodic Leg Movement Syndrome
  • EEG (electroencephalogram) to measure and record brain wave activity
  • EMG (electromyogram) to record muscle activity such as face twitches, teeth grinding, and leg movements, and to look for REM stage sleep. During REM sleep, intense dreams often happen as the brain has heightened activity.

Sleep plays a vital role in your health and wellness. Yet, there can be many potential barriers that can disrupt and disturb your sleep. Overcoming these challenges can help you enjoy the daily benefits of feeling alert and well-rested, so check with your primary care provider if you suspect you might have a sleep disorder. 

Written by Karina Lima

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