Before you go to the doctor:
- Ask other members of the household what they have noticed about your sleep behavior – snoring, sudden starts, waking up in the middle of the night.
- Keep a sleep diary for a few weeks. Record your bedtime, wakeup time, nighttime awakenings, other think might be influencing your sleep (e.g. alcohol, exercise, timing of meals).
- Write down the medications you use (name, dosage, regimen). This will be useful for the doctor.
Information from your sleep diary may help you figure out a way to solve your problems. Your sleep hygiene is always worth checking, too.
Don’t be fooled by websites. Some seem almost to want you to think you have a disorder. We describe sleep disorders at Tuck, too, but we do try not to be alarmist or to encourage hypochondria. Many quirks in sleep behavior, although they might be technically classified as disorders, can be lived with and managed without a doctor.
If you do go to a doctor. Should you visit a general practitioner or a sleep specialist? A general practitioner is probably okay for most people and situations. There aren’t many doctors who explicitly advertise themselves as sleep specialists. Sleep medicine has been recognized as a specialty in the US for less than 20 years.
If you just want a prescription for a medicine or CPAP machine, any doctor can give you one if you talk them into it. Otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat doctors) may have some expertise in apnea. Pulmonary medicine may be the natural branch of medicine for addressing apnea. Neurologists or psychiatrists may have expertise in the brain and experience with sleep disorders. In extreme conditions your general practitioner may refer you to one of these specialists. But most of the time your regular doctor will offer treatment options to you, and in most cases, that is probably good enough.
More often than referring you to another doctor, your doctor may send you to a sleep clinic. These are specially equipped to produce data that can diagnose a sleep disorder and can determine sleep patterns. The actual diagnosis may be made by your general doctor or a specialist. Treatment plans can be formulated by either or both.