Sleep medicine is a branch of medicine which is concerned with addressing sleep problems in patients. Sleep disorders are a major problem for people all over the world, contributing to a decline in quality of life and problems with physical health. Specialists in the field of sleep medicine are skilled at diagnosing sleep disorders and developing appropriate treatment plans for their patients. Like other medical specialists, they also provide referrals to colleagues in other fields of medicine as needed by their patients.
When patients experience sleep disorders, they usually complain to their primary care providers, and these doctors provide referrals to a specialist in sleep medicine. During a meeting with the specialist, the patient will discuss the problem, and the doctor will start to explore a possible diagnosis and treatment plan. Sometimes, sleep medicine includes a stay in a sleep clinic for a sleep study, in which a patient is monitored using polysomnography equipment which tracks his or her body during sleep for abnormalities which could indicate what is causing the patient's sleep problems.
Sleep disorders can include insomnia due to stress or underlying psychological disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder, along with physical issues like sleep apnea. Once a sleep disorder is diagnosed, the doctor can develop a treatment plan for the patient. Sleep medicine includes a range of treatments, from machines which are designed to prevent episodes of apnea to cognitive therapy for stress which will help patients sleep and release stress and tension so that they do not experience other physical problems which can be brought on by stress.
The treatment of sleep disorders can be very complex. Some patients assume that such disorders can be treated with medications such as sleeping pills, but such medications are usually designed specifically for short term use, to address immediate sleep problems while a long term treatment plan is developed and put in action. Part of the practice of sleep medicine involves patient education to help people understand how sleep disorders occur and the ways in which they can be addressed.
Several professional organizations offer certification in sleep medicine to physicians who wish to specialize in this field. Board certification implies a high standard of training and practice ethics, and can allow a doctor to access more patients and enjoy a reputation for quality. A number of allied health professions are also involved in sleep medicine, including physical therapists, medical technicians, and psychotherapists.