What is a Sleep Study?
Sleep studies have been around since the 1970s and are the gold standard when it comes to determining the underlying causes of your inability to get a good nights sleep. Many people have questions and some amount of uncertainty when they learn that they need to take a sleep study however this is one study you don’t have to study for!
So your doctor prescribed an overnight sleep study at a sleep lab -now what? First, having a good idea on what to expect is always helpful. An overnight sleep study is done in either a sleep lab or hospital. The rooms where the sleep studies are conducted are designed to look and feel like a hotel or your own bedroom. The goal is to make the environment as comfortable and relaxing as possible to help you get the most from the sleep study. A sleep test or polysomnography is how you determine whether or not you have sleep apnea. It can seem a bit daunting but in reality it’s a very straightforward and painless procedure. Here is some information that will help you put your mind at ease in the event you are planning to take a sleep study.
Types of Sleep Studies
Let’s take a quick look at the three types of sleep studies:
There is a diagnostic or baseline sleep study. This will typically be the type of study that occurs when you first take a sleep study. The goal of the diagnostic sleep study is to collect data which will be analyzed to determine the cause of your inability to get quality sleep.
A split night study occurs when early in the study there is reason to believe you have moderate to severe sleep apnea; the second or split part of the study involves determining the proper air pressure to treat your sleep apnea.
Another overnight sleep study is a CPAP or BiPAP titration study. This is a sleep study that is given to people who have been diagnosed as having sleep apnea and is focused on finding the correct level of air pressure to best treat sleep apnea.
Home Sleep Studies
There are portable systems on the market that can be used to diagnose sleep disorders such as sleep apnea which are nice as they allow you to conduct your sleep study in the comfort of your own home. There are a specific set of criteria the patent must meet in order to qualify so it is best to check with your physician to see if this is an option for you. Typically studies need to be competed in a sleep lab as there is much more data that can be recorded in a professional sleep lab. Your doctor will be able to determine which sleep study is best to help you treat your condition.
Many sleep labs will conduct an introductory consultation inside the lab which may help you feel more comfortable.
So now you know what sleep studies are all about. Let’s take a look at how to prepare for your sleep study.
What Should I do to Prepare for a Sleep Study?
Here’s a handy bullet-point guide on the do’s and don’ts on how to prepare for a sleep study:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or napping the day of the test.
- Bring comfortable clothing to sleep in. You may also bring your own pillow, if you’d like.
- Eat your normal dinner before you come in.
- Shower and wash your hair.
- Do not put oils/lotions on your skin.
- Do not use hair products.
- Bring any medications you may need to take before bedtime.
- You may bring a snack.
Should I Take my Medications?
Yes, unless specifically instructed by your physician, take your medication as usual. Also, bring any medication you will need to take during the night or early in the morning. Sleep Centers typically do not provide snacks, but will provide water if you would like some. It is important to let the technicians at the Sleep Center know what medications you are taking since many medications can affect sleep.
What Will Happen when I Arrive at the Sleep Center?
After you are checked into the lab, a technician will greet you and show you to your room. The technician will explain the set-up process and answer any questions or concerns you may have. You should also tell the technician any changes in your sleep or specific difficulties that you have not already discussed with your healthcare professional. You will be given time to change into your pajamas and get ready for bed. Then the technician will apply electrodes that will keep track of important data related to your sleep. Don’t worry, it will not hurt! These sensors and electrodes remain on you throughout the night so that systems such as brain waves, eye movements, heart rate, respiration and oxygen levels can be recorded and measured. It sometimes helps to think of your sleep study like an overnight physical while you sleep! These measured signals can give the most complete and through diagnosis to help determine the underlying cause of your sleep disorder. These studies usually last until the next morning but can also be done at a time most conducive to your schedule.
You may read, watch TV, or relax during this time. If you have plans first thing in the morning, be sure to inform the technician so they will be able to make sure to finish early enough. Otherwise, you can expect to be discharged between 6:00 – 6:30 in the morning.
What Should I Expect During the Sleep Study?
The purpose of the study is to identify the cause of your sleep problems. During sleep testing, small metal disks (called electrodes) are applied to your head with an adhesive paste. The adhesive paste can be easily removed using hot water, and it doesn’t damage your hair. The other electrodes are applied with sticky pads. These will not hurt or damage your skin. These electrodes help monitor your brain waves, muscle movements, breathing, snoring, and heart rate. The technician will additionally apply soft belts around your chest and waist to help monitor your breathing. A sensor clip will be attached to your finger monitors your heart rate and blood oxygen levels. None of these devices are painful or dangerous, and all are designed to be as comfortable as possible.
Your part in this is pretty straightforward: you sleep! Or do your best to sleep. After the study sleep, the technician analyzes or “scores” the large amount of data collected. A physician specializing in sleep medicine then interprets the information. This is done in order to fully understand your specific sleep issues.
How Will I be Able to Sleep with all those Wires on Me?
The wires are gathered behind you in a ponytail and then attached to a small box, about the size of a small tissue box. The box is removable, so you can get up if need be. This will let you to roll over and change positions easily. The technical equipment and technicians are in a separate room from where you will be sleeping.
Will I be Able to Get out of Bed to Use the Restroom?
Yes. All you have to do is signal to the technician, and he or she will come in and unhook the box so you can get up to use the restroom. The wires, and the box they are attached to, will rest around your shoulder while you use the restroom.
What Happens After my Sleep Study?
You will have a follow-up visit with your healthcare provider or a Sleep Specialist to discuss the results of your study. Sleep study results are not generally discussed over the telephone because of their complex nature. To fully understand the results of your sleep study, their implications, and treatment options, you should meet face-to-face with a healthcare professional.
About the Author:
Katy Norton resides in Oregon and works as a Supervisor over the Sleep Disorders Lab at St. Anthony Hospital. She has her Bachelors of Science degree in Community Health from Portland State University and is registered by the BRPT as an RPSGT, and as an RST by the ABSM. She is currently pursing her Masters of Public Health degree as well.
Katy has been working in the sleep ﬁeld for 9 years and loves what she does, especially educating patients and the public about sleep medicine.
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