Sleep is an essential part of life. Without sleep, humans cannot function normally and can cause serious damage to our overall health, well-being and quality of life. This is why our parents and doctors never fail to constantly remind us to get enough sleep when we were growing up. This fact remains true even today that we are adults and lead our own lives. However, as we grow older, we can develop sleep disorders that rob us of our precious sleeping time. When sleep disorders affect the way you live, maybe it is time to get some help from sleep specialists.
What is a sleep specialist?
A sleep specialist is a doctor that has speciality training in sleep medicine and is well-trained to perform treatments for sleep disorders. Sleep specialists can come from different backgrounds such as:
- ENT surgeons
- Respiratory therapists
These doctors can work together depending on a patient’s condition and treatment plan. Sleep specialists are skilled in the latest techniques to properly diagnose, treat and prevent a wide range of sleep disorders.
What conditions does a sleep specialist treat?
The two most common sleep disorders that medical sleep specialists treat are sleep apnoea and snoring.
This is a serious sleep disorder that is characterized by a sudden stop in breathing and then restarts over and over again while a person is asleep. This sudden stop and start of breathing can be caused by different factors such as:
- Relaxation of throat muscles (Obstructive sleep apnoea)
- Improper transmission of brain signals to breathing muscles (central sleep apnoea)
- Both obstructive sleep apnoea and central sleep apnoea manifested in one patient (Complex sleep apnoea syndrome)
Snoring can occur when your airflows cause the throat and nasal tissues to flutter as you breathe. This condition can be exhibited by anyone at any age, although it can be worse with men and overweight people. Snoring can be caused by various factors such as:
- Obstruction or blockage of nasal airways (can be caused by allergies, sinus infection, a deviated nasal septum or long soft palate tissue)
- Weak throat and tongue muscles
- Large throat tissue, tonsils and soft tissues behind the nasal cavity (adenoids)
More often than not, sleep apnoea and snoring can have similar symptoms and can be hard to be distinguished from one another. In fact, snoring can also be an indication of sleep apnoea. This is where the expertise of a sleep specialist comes in. With proper assessment, a sleep specialist can provide an accurate diagnosis for sleep apnoea and snoring and can draw out treatment and management plans for each condition.
Other more serious sleep disorders like insomnia (difficulty in falling asleep), parasomnia (night terrors), sleep paralysis, hypersomnia (daytime sleepiness), narcolepsy (loss of control of sleep and wakefulness) and many more sleep conditions that affect the normal sleep cycle and body rhythm, requires psychotherapy, medications and neurological treatments.
What treatments can a sleep specialist perform to treat sleep apnoea and snoring?
Management of sleep apnoea and snoring can be similar as well as the available treatment options. Depending on the severity of your condition, a sleep specialist can recommend the following management and treatment plans:
For people with mild sleep apnoea or snoring, usually, no medical interventions are required. However, your doctor may advise you to practice a healthy lifestyle to lessen the occurrence of sleep apnoea and snoring. These lifestyle changes can include losing weight and developing a better sleeping pattern.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
Depending on your doctor’s recommendation, CPAP can be used to help manage sleep apnoea and snoring. A CPAP is a medical apparatus that looks like a mask that has to worn over the nose and mouth during sleep. The mask is attached to a machine that delivers continuous airflow to the airways creating a pressure that frees the airways (hence the name) and restores normal breathing patterns.
For advanced cases that require correction of a physical problem such a deviated septum, large throat muscles, tonsils or adenoids, long soft tissue palate and other physical features that block the airways, surgery may be required. According to Dr. Dennis Chua from EntSpecialistSingapore ENT surgeons are the ones who perform these corrective surgical procedures.
What qualities should you look for when choosing a sleep specialist in Singapore?
Experience and Track Record
The best indication of a reliable sleep specialist is by looking at his/her track record in treating sleep disorders. Search for patient reviews online and assess if the sleep specialist achieved great results and if patients had good experience under his/her guidance.
Consultation and Treatment Costs
Determine if the prices for consultation and treatments are reasonable and cost-effective. Also, make sure that there are no hidden costs and the costs related to your treatment are discussed.
Good Communication Skills
It is important that your sleep specialist is able to listen to your needs and does everything he can to accommodate them for you. Good communication builds trust in the long run.