My doctor says I need a sleep study. I don’t know what to expect. Let’s try and answer a few questions about what you can expect if you have to go to an overnight sleep center.
If you think you may possibly have a sleep disorder it is important that you make an appointment to see your primary doctor or a doctor that specializes in sleep disorders. If they are unable to determine the underlying causes for your sleep problem they may send you to a sleep center for diagnosis. A sleep center or sleep laboratory is a specialized location that deals with the diagnosis of sleep related disorders.
There are a large number of sleep centers located across the United States and in other countries and their numbers are increasing, especially in the United States. Sleep centers in the United States must be accredited to receive payment for services. The gold standard group for accreditation is the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
When you go to a sleep center, it is usually for an overnight stay. I say usually because there are some tests that are performed during the daylight hours for some sleep related disorders. The costs associated with visiting a sleep center should be covered by your health insurance. Just know that multiple visits may be needed to diagnose your problem. The first visit is to diagnose the sleep disorder and a second visit called a PAP titration study may be required should you need a CPAP machine to treat obstructive sleep apnea.On rare occasions you may be able to do a split night study where you can get the PAP titration done in one night. The guidelines to qualify for a split night study are strict and depend on a number of factors such as the amount of time you have left in the night once your disorder is identified and if there is enough time to successfully place you on a PAP machine and titrate you to the optimum pressure to treat your OSA.
Once you have made your appointment the sleep center may send you a sleep diary. The information from the sleep diary will be used by the doctors to understand your general sleeping patterns. They will also recommend that no caffeine or alcohol be consumed after 12:00 p.m. on the day of the scheduled test. This is to eliminate any stimulants that could keep you from falling asleep.
Generally you will need to pack an overnight bag just as if you were going to stay at a hotel overnight. During the sleep study you wear your own nightclothes and you can bring a favorite pillow from home. You can also bring a book or magazine if you like to read before falling to sleep. Most sleep centers resemble a hotel room and have a television to watch if that is what you usually do before going to sleep at home. Once you are relaxed the sleep center technician starts preparation for the equipment needed to record your patterns of sleep.
The recording from a sleep center study is called a polysomnogram. The polysomnogram is a continuous record of the input from all the electrodes attached to your body while you sleep. There will be slightly more than two dozen small thin electrodes pasted to specific parts of your body. The electrodes are placed under your chin, on your scalp, near your eyes and nose, on your finger, chest and legs, and also over the rib muscles and on the abdomen. These electrodes record various types of readings during the night. Often an audio and video tape are also made to monitor sleep noises and movement.
Once all the equipment is in place the sleep technician leaves you alone to fall asleep. Even with all the equipment it is not uncomfortable. It is easy to move or turn onto your side. Each bedroom in a sleep center also has an automatic intercom so it is easy to call the technician if needed for such things as a bathroom break. When the sleep study is completed, the technician will wake you. Most studies that are used to diagnose a sleep disorder take seven to eight hours.
The readings are collected on a computer file and are monitored and analyzed by the sleep technician during the night. The results are then sent to a sleep physician to determine if you do in fact have some form of sleep disorder. Although a sleep study may not sound comfortable, it is very important to determine and treat any sleep disorder.