4 unexpected specialists that could solve your sleep dilemma


5 minutes

12 April 2019

Young woman lying on bed in striped shirt
Updated: 17 August 2021

To get back on top of your snooze game, the first step is figuring out what's causing your problem. The second step is to chat to the right specialist for your issue.

If you're having trouble sleeping, your first stop should be your GP.

"In general practice, it's a matter of talking to the patient, drilling down to the underlying cause and addressing that," said Dr Simon Torvaldsen, Chair of the Australian Medical Association (WA) Council of General Practice.

When it comes to sleep, this means understanding whether you have a sleep disorder, or if your bad sleep is actually rooted in an entirely different issue. Dr Torvaldsen explained that once your GP has formed a diagnosis, they can refer you to the right specialists for treatment.

Curious about who could help solve your sleep dilemma?

We sat down with Dr Torvaldsen to chat about common sleep problems, the specialists that treat them, how they're treated and the type of health insurance that will help cover your costs.

1. Talk about it with a psychologist

Sometimes, sleep problems actually have more to do with your state of mind.

"Where the sleep problem is a manifestation of a psychological issue, I'd refer to a psychologist," said Dr Torvaldsen.

Experiences like relationship breakdowns, work stress, bullying, or the death of a loved one can bring about anxiety or depression, which are linked to bad sleep. If you're lying awake at night, feeling anxious and just worrying about things, you may have anxiety. If you're waking up in the middle of the night and not getting back to sleep, it could be symptomatic of a depressive disorder.

A psychologist can treat your issue by uncovering the psychological cause. They'll then use relaxation techniques or cognitive behavioural therapy to help improve your mental health and by extension, your sleep.

The health cover you need: Extras cover that includes clinical psychology or psychology.

2. Put your mind to it with a hypnotherapist

If you suffer from insomnia, your GP might recommend hypnotherapy. Hypnosis is a specialised technique, which is often recommended as part of a complete psychological and medical treatment package.

Treatment typically occurs in a calm environment, where the hypnotherapist will get you into a relaxed state of mind. They'll then ask you to think about experiences or situations in a positive light—this can help change the way you think and behave.

But does it work?

"I think it comes under a similar heading to acupuncture, some people respond well, and some don't," explained Dr Torvaldsen.

He added that, "It does seem to be beneficial in some cases but it's hard to predict."

The health cover you need: Extras cover that includes hypnotherapy. Some psychologists also provide hypnotherapy treatment—if you see a psychologist for hypnotherapy, you'll need Extras cover that includes psychology.

3. Manage it with a dietitian

If you have sleep apnoea, you might want to chat to a dietitian.

"Weight loss has been proven to be of significant benefit in managing sleep apnoea," said Dr Torvaldsen.

A dietitian can help you lose weight in a healthy way by understanding your current diet and suggesting a few healthy tweaks that are easy to adopt.

Janelle Healy, Dietitian at East Metro Health Service, added sleep apnoea can also bring on related health issues.

"Sufferers of sleep apnoea are at increased risk of things like metabolic syndrome, which is where you've got a series of changes like insulin resistance, increased blood pressure, changes in your blood fat and increased weight around your abdominals," said Healy.

RELATED: Does your partner have sleep apnoea?

"A dietitian will look for ways to adapt that's not too big a burden to start with. It's about making some of those small, sustainable changes for long-term health gains," said Healy.

Healy also recommended bringing your partner to your consultation for a couple's session. She explained that whoever does the majority of the cooking will be the one, ultimately, to change up the diet in your household. So, if you're not the head cook, bring them along!

The health cover you need: Extras cover that includes dietetics will help you cover the cost of your dietitian consultation.

4. Study it with a sleep specialist

A sleep specialist is a type of doctor that specialises in—you guessed it—sleep. Sleep specialists go through extra training after medical school. They can diagnose, manage, treat and prevent a variety of sleep problems and disorders including sleep apnoea, insomnia and narcolepsy. The majority work in sleep clinics, labs and hospitals.

"If I think the problem has a high probability of involving sleep apnoea, I'd refer the patient to a sleep specialist because they will need a sleep study," said Dr Torvaldsen.

Your sleep study results help the sleep specialist to diagnose and treat your issue. In some cases, they may refer you to another specialist—like a dentist—depending on your problem's underlying cause.

The health cover you need: Hospital cover that includes sleep studies (for a hospital study with a sleep specialist)

RELATED: What happens in an overnight hospital sleep study?

A final word from the good doctor

While we've explored five specialists in this article, there are many more out there that could help you sleep. At the end of the day, as Dr Torvaldsen said, "it depends on the nature of the sleep disorder."

Whether you're waking up tired or just can't get to bed at night, chat to your GP about it and they'll be able to point you towards the specialist that can help you beat your bad sleep.

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