2019 Top Doctor: Joyce Lee-Iannotti

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Photography by Steve Craft
Photography by Steve Craft

Sleep medicine

Med School/Year Graduated: University of South Carolina/2005

Years in Practice: 10

What inspired you to pursue neurology and sleep medicine? How are they related?

I’ve always been fascinated by the brain and its intricate network and circuitry, and that fostered [my interest in] sleep medicine, as many sleep disorders stem from underlying malfunction of the brain mechanisms that maintain normal sleep physiology and neurochemistry.

Some docs approach sleep medicine from the pulmonary side. Do you also consider pulmonary issues while providing care, or do your patients have specifically neurological needs?

Sleep medicine is a multidisciplinary field, practiced by pulmonologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, internists, otolaryngologists and pediatricians. While we all care for patients of various types of sleep disorders, my niche involves caring for complex sleep problems in patients with underlying neurological conditions, like stroke and multiple sclerosis. My research interests lie in REM behavior disorder and narcolepsy.

Have you ever experienced sleep issues?

Absolutely, I have sleep apnea and use my CPAP nightly. I feel my personal experience as a sleep patient makes me an empathetic physician and I often tell my patients, “We are in the same boat.”

Do you have any sleep rituals to combat the problem?

I try to practice what I preach. I have a strict bedtime and wake time, regardless of whether I’m working the next day or not. I like to meditate and perform my favorite yoga poses prior to going to bed. And finally, I always wear my CPAP machine.

How can people tell when run-of-the-mill insomnia becomes something more insidious?

It is not uncommon to experience insomnia at some point in your life. We [estimate] that 30 percent of the general population experience insomnia in their lifetime. When it occurs frequently, like more than three times a week for more than a month, and causes daytime impairment or distress, it’s a problem and should be treated.

What do you enjoy doing in your downtime?

I love being with my family and friends. I have two children [who] keep me active and busy when I’m not working. I enjoy yoga, my time at the gym and traveling when I can.

What are you watching on Netflix these days?

I’m watching True Detective on HBO now. It’s a great crime drama – I highly recommend it! But on Netflix, I love Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

“If I wasn’t a doctor, I’d be…”

Marie Kondo! I thrive on organization, cleanliness and a minimalist philosophy. I also love her philosophy of “treasuring what you have but discarding everything that does not spark joy.”

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