Sleep Specialist: Helping Those Who Have Sleep Disorder

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Sleeping: you’ve done it since you were a baby and it may seem like the easiest thing to do.

Until it isn’t.

That’s where a sleep specialist can help patients regain restful slumber.

Sleep specialists can include medical doctors who have training in physiology, pathology of the neurological system and sleep.

Or they could be like Heather Henderson, a doctor of nurse practitioner in private practice in Syracuse, who specializes in anxiety disorders, depressive and mood disorders, lifestyle changes and stress management, women’s issues and insomnia and sleep disorders.

Including sleep disorders among her specialties makes sense. Each of these challenges — anxiety, mood disorders, stress — can contribute to sleep disruption, and poor sleep can also contribute to these other areas.

“I enjoy helping people improve their sleep because sleep is vital to optimal physical and mental health,” Henderson said.

Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per 24-hour period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to perform at their optimal mental and physical level.

In addition to the above healthcare professionals, sleep specialists could be “sleep coaches” whose training may be much less medical in nature and tends to focus more on the sleep habits and environment than medical and mental health problems that affect sleep. Medical schools don’t offer a sleep major. However, as a sub-specialty, caregivers in many areas of medicine take additional concentrations in sleep to offer greater assistance to patients struggling with sleeping well.

Typically, sleep specialist is a sub-specialty of specialties such as neurologist, otolaryngologist or pulmonologist. Specialists may work in a variety of settings, including as sleep coach or educator.

Technicians likely work in a sleep lab of a hospital or outpatient setting as part of a team of providers. Sleep medicine physicians may teach or head sleep medicine departments. A sleep specialty may also augment a care provider’s other training, such as with Henderson.

“I enjoy providing others with tools to work on sleep hygiene because doing so can also help improve so many other conditions that I see, such as depression and anxiety, and can greatly improve quality of life,” Henderson said.

Figuring out what’s disrupting their sleep and helping them resolve it can offer patients a better chance at a baseline of good health. That facilitates working on the other issues they’re experiencing, whether involving mental health, hormonal fluctuations, or something else. Not resting well exacerbates any other physical or mental health issue going on. Unfortunately, many people wait for months or even years before seeking help with their sleeping problems.

The demand for sleep specialists is unlimited, since many people nationwide are not sleeping well for a variety of reasons.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect employment data for sleep specialists, since the specialty can be applied to so many different types of careers in a variety of environments. According to, the estimated pay of a sleep specialist is $58,440 annually and for a sleep medicine physician, $253,914 per year. listed the average salary for a sleep technician as $62,101.