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What Happens at a Sleep Clinic?

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

A sleep clinic is a specialised clinic for the diagnosis and treatment of a range of sleep disorders. A team of clinicians specialising in sleep medicine work here to care for patients.

Your care will be overseen by a consultant physician who specialises in sleep disorders. This doctor is typically a neurologist, pulmonologist, psychiatrist, or internal medicine physician with a sub-speciality in sleep medicine. 

Your doctor will take a thorough medical history, examine you, and order any necessary tests. 

Many large hospitals offer in-patient sleep labs for overnight sleep studies, known as polysomnography, but in-home sleep studies are also possible.

Depending on the results, the doctor may prescribe medication and alter your daily sleep routine. They may also recommend specialised treatment.

Do You Need a Referral to the Sleep Clinic?

An appropriate referral from either your GP or other healthcare provider is usually needed. Your appointment will be an outpatient one either in person or online.

Sometimes the sleep centre will send you a questionnaire to complete ahead of your appointment. Please have it with you.

Preparing for Your Appointment

To get the most out of an appointment and improve your sleep quality, it is vital to be well-prepared. You should ensure you are familiar with what will happen during your visit and take along any documents required.

Be sure to include all relevant information, such as medications you are taking, any relevant medical and psychological conditions, and the results of past sleep tests. This allows the treatment team to formulate a strategy tailored to your individual needs.

Take some time to write down all your symptoms and all the questions you may have for the sleep doctor. Go with optimism because great strides have been taken from a medical perspective. So, there is good potential for a very good encounter with your doctor which will have a positive impact on your sleep and overall wellbeing.

What to Expect at Your Appointment

During the appointment, you will be asked questions regarding your sleeping patterns and medical history. There will be assessment questionnaires that your doctor will take you through as well.

To assist with an accurate diagnosis, they may recommend some tests that involve wearing devices such as sensors under your nose and chest or abdominal straps that measure breath rate and heartbeat throughout the night either in the clinic's sleep lab or at home if possible.

Once all the data is collected from these assessments, it will be sent back to the doctor for review. Once all the test results are together, the doctor will discuss your diagnosis and your options with you and then develop a treatment and ongoing management plan.

Understanding Sleep Disorders

A doctor studying a series of brain scans.  Sleep disorders are many and complex. They require a highly trained specialist to get to the underlying causes. A sleep clinic has a team of sleep specialists who can assist patients with a sleep disorder.
Understanding Sleep Disorders

Sleep apnoea and insomnia are widespread, but they are only two of the range of sleep disorders that can disrupt your life.

Snoring, nightmares, restlessness, difficulty falling or staying asleep, restless legs syndrome, REM sleep behaviour disorder, and excessive daytime sleepiness are all examples of common sleep problems.

Aside from these, people may suffer from delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD). This happens when individuals have trouble going to sleep at the usual hour of the night.

If left untreated, they may increase the risk of developing hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. 

A sleep disorder specialist will diagnose, treat and manage these issues.

Symptoms and Impact

It is essential to identify and tackle sleep disorders before they cause serious physical or psychological issues such as depression, heart disease, or anxiety. Signs to look out for would include difficulty sleeping at night, not being able to stay asleep for long periods of time, excessive sleepiness during the day that affects your quality of life, and an inability to concentrate.

Bed partners may complain about your snoring, and you may find that you have a dry mouth when you wake up. These could warrant investigation into the possibility of you having sleep apnoea, which would be dangerous if untreated because it would affect your ability to drive safely.

Early diagnosis combined with good care at a sleep disorder centre or with a sleep doctor is crucial in minimising any damaging effects of a chronically disrupted sleep cycle.

How Many Sleep Disorders Are There?

Though this is a young field, we already know about a vast range of sleep disorders, at least 70 of them. The major ones include insomnia, obstructive sleep apnoea, during which breathing is paused while asleep, and narcolepsy, which features extreme daytime sleepiness with unexpected "sleep attacks" during the day.

Other types include restless leg syndrome (RLS), REM sleep behaviour disorder (RSBD), and somnambulism, sleep-walking, circadian rhythm disorders, and central hypersomnias, such as, for example, narcolepsy.

Sleep Disorders Are Classified Into Two Categories


Standing for "Disorders of Initiation and Maintenance of Sleep" - in other words, insomnias, this category relates to sleep disorders where people struggle falling and/or staying asleep. This is not the same as not getting enough sleep, but to the person, it feels that way.


Standing for "Disorders of Excessive Daytime Sleepiness" - this describes feeling continuously tired, for example, falling asleep when watching TV, or in meetings, etc. despite getting what should be enough sleep at night. 

Not all of these sleep problems will require a consultation with a sleep expert - but some will. If DIMS or DOES persist, either in isolation or as part of another medical or mental health issue, then a consultation with a sleep disorders specialist may well be helpful.

Approaches to Treating Sleep Disorders

Diagnostic Assessments

This is always the beginning of the relationship with the patient and will include a full description of symptoms, medical history, and referral notes from your GP or other healthcare provider. The consultant will then order the tests related to your symptoms, which could include a home sleep apnea test, a multiple sleep latency test, and a series of blood tests.

Overnight sleep studies like polysomnography and oximetry that record your brain signals to give them a detailed and accurate analysis of your sleep cycle will be ordered if required. This can be done overnight at the hospital or at home.

Overnight Sleep Study

A lady with electrodes on her head undergoing an overnight sleep study to assess her sleep pattern and behaviour overnight. This allows a sleep doctor to better understand her sleep disorder. The sleep study can be done at the hospital's sleep clinic at the overnight lab or at home.
Overnight Sleep Study

The tests are carried out either at home or in the hospital in a sleep lab. It also measures blood circulation and respiration. The patient wears sensors beneath the nose that measure the air passing between the nose and mouth. They wear a belt that measures their breathing efforts. These tests are better at detecting obstructive sleep apnoea because they measure episodes of stopped breathing as they happen.

Medication Management

The treatment of sleep disorders may include medication management. Several drugs are available and new ones are coming out that clinicians use to help improve the quality of your sleep. Visiting a sleep centre is essential before beginning any medications, as there can be risks associated with their use. A thorough history of sleep problems as well as your full medical history will be important since sleep problems can relate to other medical conditions. The full range of interactions will need to be assessed to rule out any negative possibilities.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

Sleep-related breathing disorders that have been diagnosed as obstructive or central sleep apnoea respond well to CPAP treatment. This is a machine that blows air at a gentle pressure into a person's airway by way of wearing a mask and thereby keeps the airways open. A specialist sleep disorder technician will fit a CPAP device for you and show you how to use it.


People dealing with insomnia symptoms can sometimes turn to cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) when psychological factors are involved. This practical approach looks at changing negative thoughts and behaviours that interfere with getting enough rest. It has been demonstrated as an effective way of improving one's quality of sleep.

Patient Rights and Privacy at a Sleep Clinic

As a patient attending an appointment at the sleep clinic, you need to recognise your rights and safeguard your personal health information. Your data will be protected under the Data Protection Act 2018, guaranteeing that confidentiality and security measures are in place.

Protection of patients’ rights, as well as privacy, has not only become a professional responsibility for healthcare providers but also plays an essential role in strengthening trust between parties involved and creating a supportive treatment atmosphere. By being informed about your privileges concerning this matter, you can look out for yourself properly throughout your sleeping therapy journey while feeling respected and empowered during this experience too.


Taking charge of your condition and finding a sleep disorders centre of clinical excellence is essential for regaining control over your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a sleep clinic do?

Can my GP refer me to a sleep clinic?

What do they do at a sleep clinic in the UK?

What is a doctor who specialises in sleep disorders called?

How do I find a sleep specialist UK?

Can I get sleep therapy on NHS?

What happens at an NHS sleep clinic?

Can I go to a sleep clinic on the NHS?

When should you refer to a sleep clinic?

Where can I get more information?




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