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What Happens During a Sleep Study?

By Abbie Stutzer | 3 Minute Read

If you regularly have trouble sleeping, you may want to consult your doctor about participating in a sleep study.

Although the term “sleep study” may sound clinical and daunting, the actual study is not. To help you get prepared, we’ve outlined the common things that happen during most sleep studies.

Reasons to participate in a sleep study 

First, if you’re going to participate in a sleep study, it’s most likely because your doctor has referred you to said study. That referral may be because of any of the following sleep-related issues.

Excessive snoring: In general, snoring occurs when a person’s upper airway is narrowed, or when their nasal breathing is obstructed. Chronic snoring is classified as snoring that happens most nights and is not associated with sickness or allergies. 

Daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia): People who suffer from this sleep disorder have an inability to stay awake during the day. 

Sleep apnea: There are two types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a person’s upper airway becomes repeatedly blocked during sleep. These blockages reduce or stop air flow. In this instance, the brain is still sending the “signals” needed to breathe. Central sleep apnea occurs if a person’s brain doesn’t send the “signals” needed to breathe. 

Insomnia: There are two types of insomnia. Chronic insomnia is defined as a difficulty falling or staying asleep at least three nights a week for three months or more. Short-term insomnia takes various forms. This type of insomnia is a general term for insomnia that lasts less than three months. Short-term insomnia also is defined as when a person has a difficult time falling or staying asleep.

Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy, a condition that’s in the hypersomnia family, occurs when a person finds theirself falling asleep without warning during the day.  

Restless leg syndrome (RLS): RLS, also known as Ekbom Syndrome and Willis-Ekbom disease, is a dyssomnia and a neurological disorder. People who have this syndrome often say it feels as if there is a “pins and needles” sensation in their lower limbs. This syndrome can become more sensitive at night.

What sleep studies measure

Most sleep studies are “polysomnograms” (PSG). Most PSGs measure:

  • Eye movements during sleep, via electrooculography (EOG)
  • Brain rhythms, via electro-encephalography (EEG)
  • Heart rhythms, via electrocardiography (EKG)
  • Movement of body muscles by electromyography (EMG). Limb muscles are typically targeted. 
  • Other recordings, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) may be used, too. An ECG measures the heart’s electrical activity. The subject of the sleep study also may be filmed.

All the above tests happen in a high-tech sleep lab that resembles a hotel room during normal sleeping hours (in the evening, at nighttime). Sleep technicians monitor the patient’s sleep activity from another room. The data collected during the study can pinpoint how long a person stays in light and deep sleep stages, how often a person wakes up during the night, if sleep is disrupted because of body movements, and if the patient is getting enough oxygen.

How to prepare

If you’re preparing to go to a sleep study, do the following to ensure your experience is beneficial.

First, try to avoid drinking alcohol the day of the sleep study. Also, avoid dinking or eating anything with caffeine after lunchtime. Avoid taking naps the day of the study to increase the chance of actual sleep during the study. Also, make certain you tell the doctor who recommended the sleep study about the medications you take. To increase comfort, bring cozy pajamas, and bring something to read.

Results

Most sleep study results take about two weeks to analyze. After your doctor looks at your sleep study results, they will recommend further treatment. 

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