Not so long ago, sleep was thought of as wasted time. The saying “you can sleep when you are dead” was the general conventional wisdom. Today, research is proving that without restful and healthy sleep, you might end up dead. Stroke, heart disease, obesity, and a myriad of other harmful conditions are now linked to inadequate sleep, and researchers are discovering more about how sleep interacts with other biological functions every day.

The other piece of the puzzle is that now physicians have real options in treating sleep disorders. It did little good to diagnose sleep disorders when there were few good ways to treat them. Today, we have modern low-side-effect pharmaceuticals, cognitive behavioral treatments, and advanced equipment that makes mechanical interventions for conditions, such as sleep disordered breathing, more comfortable.

The result, of course, is that the public is increasingly recognizing, first of all, that sleep disorders are not normal, second, that one can do something about them, and, third, that lots of other people—including celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell—have them too. It is what the pioneers of sleep medicine had always hoped for. Finally, sleep medicine is starting to get its due. Time to sit back, relax, and watch eager patients and referring physicians line up at your sleep center, right?

Well, not so fast. With increased recognition comes increased competition and not always of the kind one expects or wants. It is not just new sleep centers opening up in convenient retail locations, such as shopping centers. Today, competition comes from physicians in other specialties interested in adopting home testing protocols and even from health and wellness professionals who set up “sleep spas” or offer products such as room scents, mood music, and drinks that are supposed to encourage better sleep.

No wonder some sleep medicine professionals worry that the idea of sleep medicine as its own medical specialty is being eroded by profit-motivated people jumping on the sleep industry bandwagon. Will patients confuse the treatment they would get at an accredited experienced sleep center with the services they would get at a sleep spa? Would an OSA patient think a CPAP machine could be replaced by a special pillow?

These are serious concerns that hit right in that tender spot where medicine and business intersect. Sleep professionals are supposed to be about patient care first and profits second, but one cannot help patients if one’s sleep center cannot support itself.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to predict exactly what the future of sleep medicine will look like. However, you can improve your odds of future success by staying up-to-date on news and new products in this rapidly expanding field.

One resource for doing just that is in front of you right now. In our searchable online Buyers Guide, you will find companies whose services and products can help you become more efficient and better at treating more patients. It makes looking up companies a breeze, and with one click, you can view their Web sites.

These are indeed challenging times, but exciting ones as well. Sleep medicine is realizing its promise of drastically improving the health and quality of life of so many people. Capture the opportunities and avoid the pitfalls by staying informed and involved. We will be here to help.

—Lena Kauffman
[email protected]