Sleep Apnea: Why See a Specialist?

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

Sleep apnea is a complex disease that affects everyone differently. That’s why all sleep apnea patients should follow unique treatment plans tailored to their specific needs. But your primary care doctor may not have all the information you need to manage your sleep apnea successfully. That’s where specialists come in: a sleep apnea specialist, called a sleep specialist, has the right skills and insight to help you stay in control of your sleep apnea. Here’s why:

1. A sleep specialist completes extensive training in sleep apnea and is an expert in sleep apnea care.

A sleep specialist is a physician who specializes in treating diseases related to your sleep, a field known as sleep medicine. Sleep medicine is a subspecialty under several medical specialties, so your sleep specialist may be board certified as a neurologist, pulmonologist, internist, otolaryngologist (ENT), or psychiatrist.

All doctors complete a training program called a residency after they finish medical school. But sleep specialists receive considerable training beyond that. Sleep specialists spend an additional year in a fellowship, during which they train under experienced sleep specialists and focus on patients with sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. At the end of this period, specialists can qualify to become board-certified sleep specialists. Look for a doctor who is board certified in sleep medicine and you’ll know you’re seeing an expert. 

2. A sleep specialist never stops learning about sleep apnea.

To maintain their board certifications, sleep specialists must keep up with new developments in their field. They need to be aware of new treatment methods, including new options for continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines and masks. They must complete continuing education and renew their licenses every few years, depending on the state in which they practice and other factors. By following these requirements, board-certified sleep specialists stay on top of new treatments and discoveries about the mechanisms involved in sleep apnea, so they can then provide their patients with insightful, informed, and up-to-date treatment plans.

3. A sleep specialist has extensive experience in treating sleep apnea.

Sleep specialists see a higher volume and concentration of patients with sleep apnea, and thus are more experienced in treating the condition successfully. Because they see lots of patients with sleep apnea, they can add real-world knowledge of the disease to their academic and clinical training. They’re able to assess how well patients respond to certain treatments, have a deeper understanding of how sleep apnea progresses over time, share insights about effectively implementing lifestyle changes, and recognize symptoms that a general practitioner may miss, among other skills.

4. A sleep specialist is a team player.

Sleep specialists work with teams of other health care providers who treat patients with sleep apnea and can connect patients with orthodontists, surgeons, nurse practitioners, dietitians, exercise physiologists, therapists, and other experts in sleep apnea management. Working with a team can help patients address all aspects of the disease and ensure success.

5. It’s easy to find the right sleep specialist for you.

There are thousands of sleep specialists in the United States, so how do you know which is the right doctor for you? By searching on, you can identify the best sleep specialist to help you manage your sleep apnea successfully.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 23
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