University of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • There are no suggestions because the search field is empty.
Virtual Tour
Apply Now

How to become a sleep doctor?

Posted by Callie Torres
February 26, 2024

Sleep plays a vital role in everyone’s overall health and well-being. While sleeping, our bodies repair and rejuvenate, enabling us to wake up refreshed and ready to face the day. Unfortunately, many individuals struggle with sleep conditions, which can lead to various health complications. This is where sleep medicine comes in, offering solutions to those suffering from sleep-related issues.

Sleep doctors practice a specialized type of medicine called somnology, the scientific study of sleep. A somnologist is a MD or DO trained physician that specializes in sleep medicine, thus studying and treating sleep disorders. In this article, we will cover what is a sleep medicine doctor, what a sleep medicine doctor does, the steps to become a sleep medicine doctor, their salary, and more.

Quick Navigation Links + FAQs

  1. What is a sleep medicine doctor?
  2. What do sleep medicine physicians do? 
  3. How to become a sleep medicine doctor?
  4. How long to become a sleep medicine physician?
  5. How much do sleep medicine doctors make?
  6. Sleep medicine fellowship requirements?
  7. How long is a sleep medicine fellowship?
  8. Is sleep medicine fellowship worth it?
  9. What kind of doctors can be a sleep specialist?
  10. Getting started in medicine.

What is a sleep medicine doctor?

A sleep medicine doctor, also known as a sleep specialist, sleep physician, and somnologist, is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. These doctors have extensive knowledge and training in the field of sleep medicine and are dedicated to helping patients improve their sleep quality and overall health and well-being.

Sleep doctors usually have backgrounds in fields such as neurology, internal medicine, pulmonology, psychiatry, or otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat). They receive additional specialized training, termed a fellowship in sleep medicine. Sleep medicine doctors play a crucial role in identifying and diagnosing various sleep disorders. They work closely with patients to understand their sleep patterns, identify the underlying causes of their sleep problems, and develop personalized treatment plans to improve their sleep.

What does a sleep doctor do?

A sleep doctor provides care sleep disorders, which are conditions that interrupt or disturb normal sleeping patterns. They may work in either a hospital or outpatient clinic setting. Some of the most common sleep disorders that they care for include:

  • Insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Sleep Apnea: Repeated interruptions in breathing while asleep.
  • Narcolepsy: A condition that results in daytime sleepiness and sudden loss of muscle control.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome: A syndrome that leads to uncomfortable sensations in the legs, resulting in an urge to move them while trying to sleep.
  • REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: A disorder in which individuals physically act out their dreams during sleep.
  • Parasomnias: This includes nightmares, sleepwalking, and/or night terrors during sleep.

Sleep doctors diagnose various medical sleep conditions through a number of different methods. This can include taking a detailed medical history, conducting physical examinations, and ordering sleep studies (such as polysomnography) to evaluate brain waves, breathing patterns, muscle activity, and other physiological aspects during sleep. Sleep physicians use different approaches to provide care for sleep disorders. Treatment options depend on the specific sleep disorder and may include:

  • Lifestyle modifications: This can include improving sleep hygiene habits, addressing underlying medical conditions, and managing stress.
  • Behavioral therapy: An example is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which  is often used to manage insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
  • Medications: Depending on the disorder, medications may be prescribed to regulate sleep wake cycles, control breathing, or address co-existing medical conditions.
  • Medical devices: An example of a medical device is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, which is commonly used to treat sleep apnea.

How to become a sleep doctor?

Becoming a sleep medicine physician takes dedication and a significant time commitment. It typically involves at least 12 or more years of education and training including completion of undergraduate college, medical school, residency and fellowship.

1. Undergraduate Education (4 years):

  • To start, one must complete a bachelor’s degree. Wile there usually isn’t a certain major required, pre-med coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics is strongly recommended.
  • One must also maintain a high GPA and score well on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

2. Medical School (4 years):

  • The next four years are spend completing a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program. This time includes completing clinical rotations and participating in optional research opportunities.

  • During this time, medical students must also pass the United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examinations (COMLEX-USA).

3. Residency (3 years):

  • After graduating medical school, one must match into and complete a residency program. There are a number of different specialties that one can complete prior to applying to a fellowship in sleep medicine. Options include Internal medicine, Pediatrics, Neurology, Family medicine, Otolaryngology (ENT), and Anesthesiology.

4. Fellowship (1-2 years):

  • After residency, one must complete a one-year (most common) or two-year fellowship program focused on sleep medicine.

  • Completion of a sleep medicine program deepens one’s knowledge and skills in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders.

5. Board Certification (Optional):

How long does it take to become a sleep medicine physician?

Overall, the training process of becoming a sleep medicine physician typically takes around 12-14 years of education and training after completion of high school. The duration may vary depending on the specialty chosen for residency and the length of the sleep medicine fellowship program. The minimum training steps include:

  1. Undergraduate college (4 years)
  2. Medical school (4 years)
  3. Residency (3+ years)
  4. Sleep medicine fellowship (1-2 years)

Sleep Medicine Physician salary - How much do sleep doctors make?

The salary for sleep medicine physicians may vary widely based upon the residency training that each physician completes. There are several different sources that publish sleep medicine physician salaries. According to, sleep medicine physicians make $248k on average with salaries ranging from $237k – $397k. Another source, reports that the average sleep medicine doctor salary is $367k with the salary ranging from $275k – $506k. In addition to residency completed, there are several other factors that can affect salary including:

  • Location: Busy cities like Washington, D.C., Boston, and San Francisco provide sleep doctors more money on average than smaller towns or rural locations.
  • Experience: The pay for sleep physicians usually rises with years in practice and experience, just like in any other field. Physicians starting their careers should anticipate a lower salary than those with several years of experience.
  • Practice Setting: Hospital-based sleep physicians might make more money than those that provide care in private practice or sleep labs. Furthermore, the salary for academic jobs that provide research opportunities can vary from private practice jobs such as working in a clinic.
  • Other: Leadership positions, subspecialty knowledge, and board certification in sleep medicine can all lead to increased pay.

Sleep medicine fellowship requirements - specialties and length of training.

There are a variety of career paths and training that can end in completion of a Sleep Medicine Fellowship. However, all paths require completion of medical school and a residency before starting sleep fellowship.

  • Completion of Residency: To be eligible to apply for a Sleep Medicine Fellowship, trainee doctors must have completed an accredited residency program. Depending on the specialization selected, the residency training lasts three to seven years. Typical medical residencies completed prior to sleep medicine fellowship include Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Health, Neuroscience, ENT (otolaryngology), Psychiatry, Family Practice and Anesthesiology.

  • Board Certification: Many sleep medicine fellowship programs require applicants to have board certification in their main field of expertise (the area in which residency was completed). To become a board certified practitioner, physicians must pass the board exam given by the appropriate certification body for their specialty of choice.

  • Fellowship application: The criteria and application processes may vary between different fellowship training programs. Prospective fellows should review each training program’s requirements carefully and contact the department heads for further details. Additionally, the guidelines may also differ in other countries. Therefore, potential foreign applicants should verify application details as well.



How long is a sleep medicine fellowship?

The majority of training fellowships in sleep medicine last one year, as this is the typical training period that satisfies the requirements set by the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM). However, there are a few exclusions:

  • Two-year fellowships: These types of fellowships typically focus heavily on research and thus are perfect for those who desire to work in academic sleep medicine field or research.

  • Flexible tracks: A few medical sleep programs may, in exceptional circumstances, provide for a training period extension beyond a year for particular purposes, such as extra clinical rotations or customized sleep research projects.

Is sleep medicine fellowship worth it?

Sleep medicine physicians often find completion of their fellowship training worth it. Helping patient’s to achieve better sleep can be truly life altering and thus the field can be very rewarding. While the training is long, sleep doctor’s salary often reflects the difficult nature. Like all jobs there are some possible negatives associated with sleep medicine. These include:

  • Additional training and time commitment: Completing a fellowship adds another year or two to training, delaying entry into independent practice and lowering your immediate income potential.
  • Financial considerations: As mentioned above, completing fellowship training delays the income one can make by at least another year. Additionally, the pay for sleep medicine may be lower than other specializations.
  • Risk of burnout: Due to nightly sleep tests and occasional large patient volumes, sleep medicine can be taxing, with erratic hours. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential to prevent burnout for medical doctors.

What doctor is a sleep specialist?

A physician who has completed further training and decided to specialize in sleep medicine is known as a sleep specialist. A sleep medicine specialist can come from a variety of medical specializations with a training background in:

  • Pulmonology: Doctors who focus on treating medical conditions related to the respiratory system are known as pulmonologists. Many sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, are related to respiratory issues.
  • Neurology: Neurologists study the nervous system and associated medical diseases, such as insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and specific neurological sleep disorders.
  • Internal Medicine: Internal medicine physicians specialize in taking care of patients who are admitted to the hospital. They may decide to specialize in sleep medicine as they already have a comprehensive understanding of adult medicine.
  • Psychiatry: Psychiatrists specialize in treating medical disorders associated with mental health. They may specialize in psychologically-based sleep disorders such as insomnia.
  • Otolaryngology (ENT): Physicians who specialize in treating disorders of the ears, nose, and throat may also be knowledgeable in sleep medicine, especially when those sleep conditions are linked to medical problems with the upper airway or throat.
  • Family Medicine: Doctors practicing family medicine with a particular interest in sleep medicine may also decide to further their education to become sleep specialists.



How to get started in medicine?

Now that you know more about becoming a sleep medicine doctor, you may wonder how to get started in medicine? It all begins with getting accepted into an accredited medical school like the University of Medicine and Health Sciences (UMHS). To apply, please fill out your information on our apply now page. In case you need more information, please check out our popular FAQ page. To speak to a college admissions officer, please visit this page - book an appointment.

Popular and related articles:


Posted by Callie Torres

Callie Torres is a Captain in the United States Air Force and a chief resident at Wash U/Barnes Jewish Hospital in St Louis. She is a freelance writer with many published medical articles as well as multiple peer-reviewed medical publications

Topics: Feature Medical Practice

Add a comment