Why get a sleep study?
About 40 million Americans suffer from a chronic and long-term sleep disorder. Another 20 million have at least some trouble sleeping. More than 70 sleep disorders exist, but most people who undergo a sleep study are suffering from sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome or narcolepsy.
To have a sleep study performed, you will likely go to a sleep center. Some hospitals have their own sleep centers. You can talk with your primary care provider about what option might be best for you.
What happens during a sleep study?
Before you go in for a sleep study, you will likely see either your primary care physician or a doctor at a sleep center who can evaluate your symptoms.
Assuming that you sleep at night, rather than work at night and sleep during the day, you would check into a sleep center in the evening.
You'll sleep in a room that will look similar to a bedroom or hotel room. A medical professional will attach a sensor device with several wires to your head. Other sensors and clips are attached to your chest, finger and legs. The devices enable medical staff to monitor your brain waves, breathing, heartbeat, snoring, blood oxygen levels and leg movements. If you suffer from seizures or sleep walking, there might be a few additional sensors to monitor other types of brain activity.
You might be given a fast-acting sleep aid. This will help you fall asleep quickly but shouldn't make you feel drowsy when you awake in the morning. Some people find it difficult to fall asleep away from their own beds, so the sleep aid can better ensure good study results.
Some people choose a split-night sleep study and come in two nights for monitoring. This can be helpful with patients who have sleep apnea, a disorder where you stop and start breathing in your sleep. Sleep apnea is most likely to occur during REM, or rapid eye movement sleep. The amount of REM sleep increases as the night goes on.
Patients who suffer from tiredness during the day might also come in for multiple sleep latency testing. During this test, you would go to a sleep center and generally take about four naps for 20 minutes that are two hours apart. This monitors how long it takes you to fall asleep.
Does it hurt?
There are no needles or IVs used during a sleep study. The procedure should be painless.
Are there risk factors?
You most likely will not experience any sort of risk factors. A small percentage of people are allergic to the tape used in the procedure, but there are ways to get around using whatever tape affects them.
What's the recovery time?
When you wake up in the morning, a medical professional will remove the sensors. You most likely will be able to go about your daily activities.
Are there any follow-ups?
You likely will have a follow-up appointment to discuss the results of the sleep study, your diagnosis and your treatment plan. Most sleep disorders are treatable once they're diagnosed.
Source: Aaron Henley, administrative director at Sleep Disorder Centers of Oklahoma; Dr. Jonathan Schwartz, Sleep Disorder Centers of Oklahoma; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; The Mayo Clinic.