When to Consult a Sleep Doctor: Guidelines for Insomnia, Apnea, and Other Disorders


Talk to your doctor if you haven't slept well for more than 3 weeks.(VEER)Deciding when to see a sleep specialist depends on what disorder you think you have, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Here are a few of their recommendations.

For insomnia, be sure to seek help if the following three statements apply: The insomnia has lasted more than three weeks; it is not improving; it is interfering with your ability to function during the day. Insomnia is often simply a response to a stressful situation and should disappear as the stress decreases. But bad sleep habits can develop during a period of stress. This prolongs and establishes the insomnia. It is easier for you to reestablish good sleep if you eliminate these habits early.

Sleep apnea
A much more serious disorder, sleep apnea needs to be treated by a sleep specialist right away. The specialist will review your history and symptoms and, if needed, schedule you for an overnight sleep study called a polysomnogram. Then he or she can customize a treatment plan for you.

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Your primary care doctor may not recognize or know how to treat narcolepsy, as it is not a common sleep problem. Sleep specialists, however, frequently treat insomnia and know what steps to take to help you get better.

Jet lag
Making a few adjustments to your sleep schedule when you travel may free you from jet lag. If you travel very often and continue to struggle, however, then you may want to visit a sleep specialist.

Shift work
You may have to keep unusual work hours for a long period of time. In the case of a shift work sleep disorder, which can alter your natural circadian rhythm, you may want to visit a specialist. He or she can provide you with some methods to help your body adjust and to improve your sleep.

Restless legs syndrome
A mild case of restless legs syndrome (RLS) may not bother you enough to seek medical help. But visit a specialist if your sleep is greatly disturbed. Sleep disturbances can hinder you at work and at home by making you very tired during the day and may even play a part in causing depression or anxiety.