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Sleep Study

May 24, 2024

Sleep Study

A sleep study, also known as a polysomnogram, is an essential diagnostic tool doctors use to understand a patient's sleep patterns. It involves monitoring and recording various body functions whilst you are asleep, including your heart rate, brain activity, and breathing. By analysing these body functions, the doctor can gain insights into the nature and quality of your sleep. This is crucial as poor sleep can affect your overall health and well-being.

During a sleep study, different sensors are placed on your body to track the functions of various systems. These sensors are connected to a computer, which records all the data for further analysis. The results of the sleep study help the doctor understand if there are any abnormalities in your sleep pattern that could indicate a medical condition.

Purpose of a Sleep Study

Doctors typically recommend a sleep study when one exhibits symptoms of conditions affecting sleep. They use the test to identify the condition and determine an appropriate course of treatment. It can also be used to assess the effectiveness of treatments that have already been administered. These are generally conditions that affect or disrupt your brain, nervous system, breathing and heart function. 

Conditions diagnosed through a sleep study include:

  • Sleep apnea (obstructive and central)
  • Narcolepsy
  • Periodic limb movement disorder (including restless legs syndrome)
  • Insomnia
  • Certain types of seizures and epilepsy
  • Night terrors (also known as sleep terrors)
  • Nocturnal panic attacks
  • Sleepwalking or other sleep behaviour-related disorders
  • Sleep paralysis
  • Other types of parasomnias and disruptive sleep disorders

How Sleep Studies Work

The quality of one's sleep is influenced by various factors. A sleep study utilises multiple sensors that track different body systems and processes, giving doctors an in-depth look at the patient's sleep patterns.

A sleep study comprises the following sensors:

  • Electroencephalography (EEG): Sensors detect and record brain wave activity during sleep.
  • Electrocardiography (ECG): Monitors heart activity to detect any rhythm irregularities.
  • Electromyogram (EMG): Attached to facial skin and legs to monitor muscle movement.
  • Electro-oculography (EOG): Adhesive sensors around the eyes detect eye activity.
  • Breathing sensors: Detect air movement through the mouth and nose.
  • Respiratory Inductive Plethysmography (RIP) belt: Monitors torso expansion during breathing.
  • Pulse oximeter: Reads pulse rate and oxygen levels in the blood.
  • Video and audio monitoring: Allows doctors to observe and hear what happens during sleep.

Who Needs a Sleep Study

If you've been experiencing symptoms like severe snoring, long pauses in breathing while asleep, excessive daytime sleepiness or insomnia, your doctor may recommend a sleep study. These symptoms could be signs of a sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea – a potentially serious condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. People with conditions such as chronic lung diseases or neurological conditions like Parkinson's disease may also benefit from a sleep study.

If left untreated, sleep disorders can lead to significant health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. They can also affect your quality of life by causing mood changes, impaired concentration and poor performance at work or school. All in all, if you've been having trouble sleeping or if you're excessively tired during the day for no apparent reason, it might be time to talk to your doctor about the possibility of undergoing a sleep study.

What to Expect During a Sleep Study

When you undergo a sleep study, several sensors will be attached to your body to monitor various parameters such as your brain activity, eye movements, heart rate and breathing patterns. You'll usually be asked to arrive at the hospital or clinic a few hours before your usual bedtime. The sensors are painless and are designed to remain in place while you move in your sleep.

Here's what typically happens during the study:

  • The healthcare provider will attach sensors to your scalp, temples, chest, and legs using a mild adhesive.
  • Elastic belts may be placed around your chest and stomach to measure your breathing.
  • A sensor may be placed on your finger or ear to measure the level of oxygen in your blood.
  • Once the sensors are in place, you'll be free to read or relax until your normal bedtime.
  • You'll then be asked to try and sleep. Although this might feel strange, most people do manage to fall asleep during the study.
Tips for a Successful Sleep Study Experience

Preparation is key for a successful sleep study. Here are some tips to help you prepare:

  • Follow your doctor's instructions: Make sure to follow all the instructions given by your doctor before the test. This could include avoiding certain medications or food and drink (like caffeine or alcohol) that could interfere with your sleep.
  • Pack essentials: Pack necessary items like pyjamas, toothbrush, books or other items you need for an overnight stay.
  • Be on time: Make sure to arrive on time for the appointment. This will give you enough time to relax and get accustomed to the environment before the test begins.
  • Avoid napping on the day of the test: To ensure that you're able to sleep at night during the test, avoid taking naps during the day.
  • Inform about allergies: If you have any allergies, particularly to adhesive tapes used in attaching sensors, inform the sleep lab staff in advance.

Remember, a sleep study is a non-invasive procedure that can provide valuable insights into your sleep patterns and overall health. If you're experiencing issues with sleeping, don't hesitate to discuss them with your doctor. They can help determine if a sleep study is right for you and guide you on the next steps based on the results.

What is the cost of a sleep study?

The cost of a sleep study may vary depending on several factors, such as the type of study you need and your location. Home-based studies may be less expensive, but it's best to consult with your doctor or sleep clinic for a precise estimate.

What happens if my sleep disorder goes untreated? 

Leaving a sleep disorder untreated can lead to serious health problems. Poor sleep quality or lack of sleep can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even stroke. It can also impact your mood, memory, and overall quality of life. Hence, it's vital to address any sleep issues you're experiencing.

What are common symptoms indicating a need for a sleep study?

If you're experiencing excessive daytime tiredness, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night, loud snoring, sudden awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, or pauses in breathing during sleep, you might need a sleep study. These symptoms could indicate conditions like sleep apnea or insomnia, which require professional evaluation.

Will my insurance cover the cost of the sleep study?

Coverage for a sleep study typically depends on your insurance policy. Many insurance companies cover the cost if the study is deemed medically necessary by your doctor. It's important to check with your insurance provider before scheduling a test to understand what costs you may be responsible for.

How long does a typical sleep study last?

A typical in-lab sleep study lasts about 7 to 8 hours. The patient usually arrives at the sleep centre in the evening and stays overnight until morning. This duration allows technicians to monitor multiple full sleep cycles and gather comprehensive data about sleeping patterns and potential disorders.

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