If you believe you have a sleep disorder or if you’ve already gone to your family doctor and he / she has diagnosed you with a sleep disorder, the next step is likely a sleep study to confirm these findings.
Patients who get referred to a sleep center or a sleep disorder clinic undergo a sleep study or sleep test to determine first what the sleep disorder is, and secondly, how severe it is.
There are many sleep centres throughout the world – and due to the increase in sleep related problems, their numbers are increasing every year. In the United States, sleep centres have to be given accreditation by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
If you’ll be undergoing a sleep study or sleep test, you’ll be asked to stay overnight at a sleep center for observation. Depending on your condition and the findings of that night, you may be asked to come back for subsequent visits. Sleep study costs range from USD $ 1000-3000 and are normally covered through health insurance but be sure to check with your provider so that you’re not stuck footing the bill.
Once you set the appointment for your sleep study, the sleep center may send you a small notebook – called a sleep diary – prior to your scheduled sleep test. By filling out this diary, the sleep doctors will have a better idea about your sleeping patterns, how much sleep you generally get and the times you usually sleep. This information is used to give them a better idea of what they’ll be looking for when conducting the sleep test.
Since the sleep test is usually done around the same time each night (normally in bed before 10pm) , you may have to try to sleep earlier than you may be used to. Therefore, it is important that you don’t drink any alcohol or caffeine the day of the test.
As a patient of the sleep center, you’ll be asked to pack an overnight bag – similar to if you were to stay in a hotel for the night. You’ll want to bring anything that you normally use to help you sleep at home – a book, a favourite pillow, pyjamas etc. Most sleep centres are set up similar to hotel rooms and also have a television in the room.
Once you’ve settled in and feel comfortable, a sleep technician will start to prepare all the equipment needed for the sleep test. The main test used during a sleep study is a device called a polysomnography which is often used as a synonym for sleep study. The result of the polysomnography is a polysomnogram which is a comprehensive record of the patient’s entire sleep.
The polysomnogram records biophysical changes during sleep including a patient’s:
In order to use a polysomnography, about two dozen thin little electrodes are attached to various parts of the patient’s body. These electrodes are placed in a variety of places around the patient’s body including the chin, around the eyes and nose, on the chest and legs, on the abdomen and attached to the fingers. In addition, many sleep centers will make either an audio or video recording of the patient’s sleep which allows them to monitor for additional things like movement during sleep or sleep noises.
Once you’ve been hooked up to all the necessary machines, the sleep technician will leave you alone so that you can try to fall asleep. It may sound like it may be difficult to get to sleep with so many electrodes attached to your body. You’ll likely find, however, that it’s not so much the electrodes that bother you as the fact that you are in a strange place, having to sleep at a pre-determined time. A time when you may not be used to going to bed.
The rooms in these sleep centers also have intercom systems in case you are feeling any discomfort or if you need to take a bathroom break or readjust something. Most sleep studies will take between seven and eight hours and the technician will come back in the room to let you know when the test is completed.
The readings from the polysomnography, called a polysomnogram, are then collected and analyzed by sleep experts to determine if there is indeed a sleep disorder present and if so, why kind and how severe. The polysomnogram may be between 800 and 1000 pages long and require some time to decipher all the data.
Although it may not sound like something that you would enjoy doing, undergoing a sleep study is an important step if you’re to diagnose and cure any sleeping disorder that you may have. Diagnosis is the first step towards finally being able to get a good night’s sleep.