How Does a Sleep Study Work?
If you’ve ever wrestled with sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, or insomnia, you’ve probably considered participating in a sleep study, also known as a polysomnography.
Anthony Suchoski MD, a sleep medicine specialist at Group Health, explains how they work and what to expect if you participate in one.
Before the Test
To prepare for the test, your doctor will advise you to forego caffeinated or alcoholic beverages throughout the day leading up to the study.
From there, you be instructed to arrive at the sleep center at a designated time (usually 8 p.m., for overnight studies), and a technician will explain what will happen during the study. Then, he or she will place electrodes, resembling EKG sticky pads, on your head, to monitor your brainwaves, and respiratory bands over your chest and abdomen to see if you’re experiencing any airway obstruction (breathing issues) while you are asleep.
A sensor will also be attached to your finger to monitor your heart rate and blood oxygen levels. “We also put monitors on the arms and legs so we can see if people have abnormal movement during sleep, as well,” Dr. Suchoski explains. “There’s no guessing involved.”
During the Test
Once you’re hooked up to the appropriate monitoring equipment, you are free to watch television, read or browse the internet on any mobile devices you bring along. Then, around 10 or 11 p.m. when you are ready to go to sleep, the technician will run through a series of biocalibrations, which includes asking you to:
- Close your eyes
- Grit your teeth
- Making a snoring noise
“This is so we can see what it looks like at a baseline, so if you do those things later on, we’ll be able to check against the movement,” Dr. Suchoski points out.
Signals from the electrodes are recorded during sleep, and a technician will monitor your breathing and heart rate (including the number of times you stop breathing or almost stop breathing). The time it takes you to fall asleep is measured, as well as the time it takes you to enter REM sleep.
After the Test
You will be at the center until 6 or 7 a.m. Once the study is over, the technician will come in, remove the electrodes, and you are free to head home. If you need to shower and prepare for the workday, that option is available. Within a week, you will be contacted and provided with your results.