How to Become Sleep Medicine Specialist

Updated on January 15, 2024


Getting quality sleep is extremely important for both physical and mental health. However, over 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders, according to the American Sleep Association. As sleep issues become more prevalent, the demand is growing for specialists who can treat conditions like insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy. If you’re interested in becoming a sleep medicine specialist, you’ll need to go through extensive training in this rapidly advancing field. First, you must complete a medical degree and obtain a valid license to practice medicine. Next, you must complete a residency in sleep medicine, which focuses on diagnosing and managing sleep disorders. After finishing your residency, you can become board-certified in sleep medicine through the American Board of Medical Specialties. This certification demonstrates your expertise in this specialty. With the right education and dedication, you can launch a rewarding career helping patients get the needed rest.

What is a Sleep Medicine Specialist?

A sleep medicine specialist, also known as a somnologist, is a medical doctor who has completed advanced training in the study of sleep disorders. They are experts at diagnosing and treating a wide range of sleep problems.

Education and Training

To become a sleep specialist, a doctor must first complete medical school and obtain a medical degree. After this, they undergo residency training in an accredited program. Many choose internal medicine, neurology, psychiatry, pediatrics, or pulmonary disease for their residency. Following their residency, they must complete a 1 to 2-year fellowship in sleep medicine. This advanced training covers topics like sleep physiology, the diagnosis of sleep disorders, and treatment modalities. After finishing their fellowship, sleep specialists can become board-certified in sleep medicine by passing exams from the American Board of Sleep Medicine or a related medical specialty board.

Job Duties and Responsibilities

As experts in sleep health, sleep medicine specialists perform various important duties. These include:

So, a sleep specialist utilizes their expertise in sleep science and disorders to properly evaluate patients, diagnose conditions, provide effective treatments, and continually enhance their knowledge in this critical domain of health and wellbeing. Their role is vital in helping countless people overcome chronic sleep problems.

What do Sleep Medicine Specialists do?

Sleep medicine specialists, also known as somnologists, diagnose and treat sleep disorders. Their main responsibilities include:

Sleep specialists treat many sleep disorders to help patients get consistent and restorative sleep through customized treatment plans, education, and ongoing care.

Educational Requirements

To become a sleep medicine specialist, you must complete medical school and a residency program, followed by a fellowship in sleep medicine.

Medical School

The first step is earning a medical degree (MD or DO) by completing four years of medical school after a bachelor’s degree. Medical school provides foundational education in areas like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, biology, etc. needed to practice medicine. Learn more about medical school admission requirements from the Association of American Medical Colleges.


After finishing medical school, you must complete a residency program, typically 3-7 years long, in a specialty like neurology, internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, etc. Residency provides intensive clinical training under supervision to diagnose and treat illnesses in your specialty.

Sleep Medicine Fellowship

Once you complete your residency, you can apply for a sleep medicine fellowship, which takes an additional 1-2 years. This fellowship focuses on managing sleep disorders through specialized training in sleep diagnostics, testing, treatment,, and research. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine accredits sleep medicine fellowship programs.

Board Certification

After finishing your sleep medicine fellowship, you can become board-certified in sleep medicine by passing the American Board of Medical Specialties exam. This demonstrates your expertise in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders.

Maintaining a sleep medicine certification requires ongoing education, re-examination every ten years, and an active medical license.

Postgraduate Training for Sleep Medicine Specialist

Becoming a sleep medicine specialist requires extensive postgraduate training beyond the requirements for a general medical degree. Here are the key steps:

In summary, sleep medicine is a subspecialty requiring rigorous postgraduate education in the form of residency, fellowship, thorough testing, and ultimately board certification specifically in managing sleep-related conditions. This extensive training enables specialists to provide quality care to the millions of patients suffering from sleep disorders.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Sleep Medicine Specialist

Becoming a sleep medicine specialist requires certain skills and personal qualities that contribute to success in this field. Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are essential, as sleep specialists must listen carefully to patients, explain sleep disorders and treatments clearly, and collaborate with other healthcare providers. They should have compassion and patience in caring for patients who are exhausted, stressed or have complex conditions. Analytical skills and attention to detail are also important for interpreting sleep studies, developing treatment plans, and monitoring patient progress.

In addition, successful sleep medicine specialists:

Sleep specialists who develop these professional skills and personal qualities can greatly improve patients’ well-being through quality sleep. Their expertise is invaluable in the interdisciplinary medical system. They can build a rewarding career in sleep medicine with passion and diligence.

Sleep Medicine Specialist Salary

Years of Experience Average Salary
Less than one year $150,000 – $200,000
3 – 4 years $200,000 – $250,000
10+ years $300,000+

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Becoming a board-certified sleep medicine specialist opens up various career opportunities. Sleep medicine is a growing field with a positive job outlook. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for physicians and surgeons overall is projected to grow 4% from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average across all occupations.

After completing medical school and a residency program, you may choose to practice sleep medicine in a few different settings:

Private Practice

You can open your sleep disorder clinic or join an existing private practice. This allows you autonomy in setting your hours and building your client base. It also provides the potential to earn a higher income long-term. However, you take on more financial risk starting.


Large hospitals employ sleep medicine specialists to interpret sleep studies, diagnose conditions, and develop treatment plans for patients. Working in a hospital setting provides a steady salary and set hours. There may also be more opportunities for career advancement into higher-level or supervisory roles.

Research Facilities

Sleep centers and universities often hire specialists to research sleep disorders. This work allows you to be on the cutting edge of advancements in the field. Hours may be more flexible for research than clinical work. These jobs often require you to have a strong research background and writing skills to publish findings.

As a sleep specialist gains more experience over their career, they may have opportunities to advance into leadership roles, such as directing a sleep lab or clinic. Senior-level positions provide more input into policy and procedural decisions. Highly respected specialists could also teach aspiring doctors by becoming professors of sleep medicine. Additionally, physicians can boost their salaries by taking on more patients or working extra hours in their practice. Overall, the field of sleep medicine provides diverse work settings and chances to advance.


In conclusion, becoming a sleep medicine specialist requires significant education and training, but it can be a rewarding career helping patients with sleep disorders. You must earn a medical degree, complete an accredited residency program, become board-certified in sleep medicine, and obtain proper licensing. The path takes commitment, but ample job opportunities exist for those willing to put in the effort. Sleep medicine is a growing field as awareness and diagnosis of sleep disorders increase. If you are passionate about helping patients achieve restful sleep, become a sleep specialist. For more on accredited sleep medicine fellowship programs, visit the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education website.

Additional Resources

Resource Link Description
American Academy of Sleep Medicine
  • Professional medical society representing sleep medicine physicians and health professionals
  • Provides information and resources on sleep medicine careers and training paths.
Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education
  • Oversees residency and fellowship programs in the U.S
  • Details on accredited sleep medicine fellowship programs and requirements.
American Board of Medical Specialties
  • Governing organization that assists 24 approved medical specialty boards
  • Offers certification in sleep medicine through the American Board of Sleep Medicine.
Association of Sleep Technologists
  • Professional association for sleep technologists.
  • Provides education, certification, and advocacy for sleep technology professionals.


What is a sleep medicine specialist?
A sleep medicine specialist is a medical doctor who has completed additional training and certification to diagnose and treat sleep disorders. Sleep specialists have expertise in conditions like insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and other disorders that interfere with normal sleep patterns.

What education is required to become a sleep medicine specialist?
Becoming a sleep specialist requires extensive education and training. First, you must complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree, typically in a field like biology or chemistry. After earning an undergraduate degree, you must attend 4 years of medical school to earn your MD or DO degree.

After finishing medical school, you need to complete a 5-year residency program in a specialty like internal medicine, neurology, pediatrics, psychiatry, or pulmonary disease. During your residency, you gain supervised clinical experience diagnosing and treating patients. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, you must then complete a 1 to 2-year sleep medicine fellowship to gain specialized training in diagnosing and managing sleep disorders.

What kind of experience is needed?
In addition to your medical training and fellowship program, you will also need hands-on patient care experience in diagnosing sleep disorders. By the end of your fellowship training, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requires you to interpret at least 700 sleep studies and provide care for at least 700 patients with sleep disorders. Gaining extensive clinical experience is essential to becoming a competent sleep medicine physician.

What is the average salary for a sleep specialist?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for physicians practicing sleep medicine and disorders is $201,440 per year. However, salaries can vary depending on your years of experience, geographic location, and practice setting. The top 10% of physicians in this field earn over $303,000 annually.

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