Sleep Studies for Sleep Apnea
by Dr. Scott Bolding
When it comes to treating any medical condition, a thorough diagnosis is essential. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is no different. Diagnosing sleep apnea helps us know what is going on while you sleep so we can create a treatment plan. But before we can do that we need to make sure you actually have obstructive sleep apnea. And the way we do that is through a sleep study.
Sleep studies are an essential part of the sleep apnea diagnostic process. Sleep studies for sleep apnea help us gather data on your sleep. Then we use that data to determine if you have obstructive sleep apnea. We also use this data to get a better understanding of how severe your sleep apnea is.
Many patients are curious about how sleep studies for sleep apnea work. The goal of this post is to answer that question. We will help explain the different types of sleep studies, how they work, and what will happen afterward. We want you to have as much information as possible, so you can feel confident moving forward with your sleep apnea diagnosis.
As always, it’s important to discuss everything with your doctor. And if you have any questions, please reach out to us.
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Types of Sleep Studies for Sleep Apnea
There are two main types of sleep studies for sleep apnea. The first type is polysomnography (PSG). This type of study happens overnight in a sleep lab. The second type of sleep study is a home sleep test (HST). As the name implies, an HST takes place in the comfort of your own home. There are some differences between PSGs and HSTs. Your sleep apnea specialist will discuss which one is right for you.
A polysomnography is the most common type of sleep study for sleep apnea, as well as other sleep disorders. A PSG uses many components to gather data while you sleep. Because of the specialized equipment used, PSGs are exclusively performed in a sleep lab. This sleep lab is in either a hospital or a sleep center.
What Does an In-Lab Sleep Study Measure?
Polysomnographs record several different things while you sleep. Measurements from a PSG include:
- Blood oxygen levels
- Heart rate
A PSG also measures your brain waves and eye movements while you sleep. This helps us assess your sleep stages and identify any disruptions in your sleep cycle.
What to Expect During an In-La Sleep Study
For some patients, the idea of going to a sleep lab can be intimidating. Knowing what to expect during a sleep study can help you feel more at ease. The process of getting a sleep study for sleep apnea is actually quite simple. Once patients get through it, they realize it’s not really anything to worry about.
Before the Sleep Study
Because you’ll be spending the night in the sleep lab, your doctor will work with the lab to schedule your study. You need to tell your doctor about any medications you’re currently taking. They may recommend stopping these medications for the sleep study. We also recommend not drinking caffeine or alcohol on the day of your test. These can make it harder for you to sleep normally and interfere with your results.
Once you arrive at the sleep lab and get checked in, you will go to a private bedroom. This room looks like a hotel room and is designed to be as comfortable as possible. The room will be dark and quiet so you fall asleep easily. There may be a TV for you to watch before you get ready to sleep. Each room also has its own bathroom which you can use at any time. You just need to let the technician know so they can come to unhook you from the PSG equipment.
The room is also equipped with a camera so the technicians can see what’s going on inside the room. You will also have an intercom system so you can communicate with the technicians.
You should wear your own pajamas and bring anything you need to be comfortable. You may want a book, extra pillows, or blankets. The goal is to make sure you have the ideal environment to fall asleep in.
During the Sleep Study
Right before it’s time to start the study, the technician will come in and hook you up to all the equipment. You will have small sensors for your head and body, an elastic belt wrapped around your chest, and a finger probe. Many patients worry about falling asleep with the sensors, but most find they aren’t a big deal.
Then, you will simply fall asleep. The technicians will be in a room down the hall all night keeping an eye on everything. If you need anything you can let them know. If they notice signs of sleep apnea, they may wake you to connect you to a CPAP machine. Otherwise, they will let you sleep through the night.
After the Sleep Study
In the morning, you will wake up at about 6:00 am. The technician will remove the sensors and you will be able to go home.
Once you leave, the technicians will begin analyzing the data they gathered overnight. Depending on the case this can take several days or even weeks. Then the results will be sent over to your doctor so you can figure out how to move forward with treatment.
The results of an in-lab sleep study will include:
- How long you spend in each sleep stage
- How many times you wake up during the night
- Limb movements
- Brain activity
Of course, if you’re concerned about sleep apnea, data on your breathing will be crucial. The PSG will collect data on how many times you stop breathing during the night, whether you snore, and how deep or shallow your breathing is. This information can help us determine if you have obstructive sleep apnea.
Home Sleep Tests for Sleep Apnea
Home sleep tests are starting to gain popularity when it comes to diagnosing sleep apnea. HSTs offer a convenient, cost-effective way to perform a sleep study for sleep apnea. As the name suggests, an HST is performed in the comfort of your own home. A home sleep test uses a portable monitor that you hook up to gather data on your breathing while you sleep. The data uploads to the cloud where a sleep technician can access and evaluate it.
What Does a Home Sleep Test Measure?
A home sleep test doesn’t measure as much as polysomnography. Where a PSG is able to measure brain activity and limb movement, an HST only measures your breathing. Therefore, an HST is only used to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. An HST is not recommended if your doctor suspects other sleep disorders.
Even though they don’t measure as much as a PSG, the HST still collects accurate data when it comes to your breathing. This accuracy makes home sleep tests effective in diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea.
What to Expect During a Home Sleep Test
The process of getting a home sleep test is pretty straightforward. Your doctor will have to order the sleep test kit, which you will pick up from them. You may be worried about administering the test yourself. But your doctor will show you how to use everything when you pick up the testing equipment. This equipment will include:
- Chest belt
- A finger probe to measure blood oxygen levels
- Nasal mask
- Sensors to put on your chest
- A portable monitor
Then, you simply take everything home and get ready to go to bed at your usual time. When you go to bed you’ll hook up the equipment just like the doctor showed you. In the morning, you’ll wake up as normal, unhook the equipment and return the test to your doctor. The information gathered from the equipment is uploaded to the cloud once you’re test is complete.
After your doctor has the chance to review the data they will call you in to review everything.
Which Type of Sleep Study Do I Need?
Now that we’ve discussed the different types of sleep studies for diagnosing sleep apnea, you may be wondering which one you need. This will depend on your specific situation. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, so you will need to discuss everything with your sleep specialist.
Benefits of an HST for Sleep Apnea Patient
Home sleep tests offer many benefits over polysomnographs. The biggest benefits are that they are more convenient and cost less. You don’t have to try to work your schedule around to go to the lab, which saves you time and money.
Results are also much faster with an HST because the information is uploaded right to the cloud. You don’t have to wait for technicians to work through all the data gathered to get a diagnosis.
Even though having to administer the test is often intimidating, most patients find that the equipment is comfortable and easy to use.
When We Don’t Recommend a Home Sleep Test
Even though you may prefer a home sleep test over going to a sleep lab, HSTs aren’t always right for every patient. Because the equipment only measures your breathing, HSTs are only helpful for evaluating patients with obstructive sleep apnea.
They are extremely helpful in understanding the severity of your OSA. However, they aren’t recommended for patients who may have other types of sleep disorders. If your doctor wants to rule out other possibilities, they will most likely recommend a PSG over a home test.
Benefits of a PSG
In-lab sleep studies may not be as convenient as a home sleep test, but they still have several benefits. The biggest benefit is the amount of data they provide. PSGs don’t just measure your breathing. They measure every aspect of your sleep. The amount of data gathered from a PSG can help your doctor get a better picture of the problems with your sleep patterns. This enables us to give you a better diagnosis, which leads to better treatment.
Getting a sleep study in a lab also has the benefit of having the technicians there if anything goes wrong. They can adjust or replace equipment if it stops working. If you have questions or concerns you can talk to them right away. This extra support helps make sure the information gathered is accurate.
When Do We Recommend a Polysomnography
Polysomnographs are usually recommended when we aren’t sure if you have other sleep disorders. Measuring brain activity helps us rule out these other sleep disorders.
A PSG is also recommended for patients who have other medical conditions, including:
- Neuromesuclar disease
- Pulmonary disease (like COPD)
- Congestive heart failure
What Happens After a Sleep Study?
Once your sleep study is complete we will need to review the data. This may take a few days or weeks depending on your case. Then, we will schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss everything. If you have obstructive sleep apnea we will perform an examination of your airway. Examining the airway gives us a chance to see where the obstruction is. From there we will be able to develop a treatment plan.
It’s Time to Breathe Better Again
Diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea is important to making sure you’re treated properly. And sleep studies play an important role in that process. By gathering data on your sleep, we can get a better picture of what we need to do to help you breathe better. If you are ready to start this process, we are here to help. Reach out to one of our sleep specialists today, schedule a consultation, and let’s get you back to a better night’s sleep.