Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. This sleep disorder is one that can lead to other serious health concerns such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and even death if left untreated. This means it is important to get it diagnosed as soon as possible.
A polysomnogram provides critical data on your brain waves, oxygen levels, heart rate, and body movements to diagnose sleep disorders. Unfortunately, many cases of OSA are unrecognized and undiagnosed, partly due to the high cost and inconvenience of polysomnography, which is usually done in sleep labs. (1) Some locations may be lacking in facilities and staff members to perform these exams, leaving the demand for the test higher than the supply.
At-Home Sleep Tests
With technology advancing, there are now at-home sleep tests that can be performed in your own bed! These tests are proving to be more convenient and cost-effective than in-lab exams.
Advantages of At-Home Sleep Apnea Tests
- Less waiting time. You can begin treatment for OSA sooner than if you were waiting for an in-lab test and the results to come back.
- Reduced cost. At-home sleep apnea testing is just a fraction of the cost of in-lab testing at between $150 and $500.
- Greater comfort. Having a sleep test in a sleep center can be uncomfortable. Some people have a hard time adjusting to sleeping in new environments. Having the test done at home can add comfort. Being in your own bed with fewer wires attached to you may also make it easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- More convenience. It’s easier to schedule an at-home test and you’ll get the results faster. To schedule an at-home test you just need to obtain a prescription from your doctor.
Disadvantages of At-Home Sleep Apnea Testing
- Less accurate results. Having fewer wires attached to you during sleep can mean less information when it comes to diagnosing sleep apnea. When you get tested in a sleep lab, wires are attached to monitor brain wave activity. Technicians can see if you are awake or sleeping and even which stage of sleep you are in. At-home testing cannot show the stages of sleep, or if you’re awake or sleeping, but rather records the night as a whole.
- No additional diagnoses. Many people that have OSA may also have another sleep disorder. Because an at-home test shows less information, a diagnosis of another sleep disorder may be missed.
- Wires can become detached. In a sleep lab, sleep technicians are there to notice and fix any disconnections. At home, these problems may go unnoticed until the exam is scored by a technician.
- Contraindications for at-home sleep testing. Certain medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure (CHF), and some neuromuscular diseases are contraindications for getting an at-home sleep apnea test.
At-Home Sleep Study Instructions
If you think you may need an at-home sleep apnea test you may be wondering how to get yours and how it works. Many times your medical provider or sleep technician will give you instructions and explain the process to you, but here is a handy overview.
Sleep testing requires a prescription from your doctor. Some websites offer the testing kit as an over-the-counter device but you should always get it approved by your physician. This is especially true if you have any other medical conditions or are taking any medication. You’ll either get the equipment delivered to your door or you’ll need to pick it up from your physician.
Before going to bed the night of your sleep test, you’ll attach the sensors as instructed, and then turn on the machine. The sensors usually include a finger probe, chest strap, and nasal cannula (or mask) that will monitor your chest movement, breathing pattern, oxygen level, heart rate, and body position.
Go to sleep like you normally would and when you wake up just take off the sensors. For some people, being attached to sensors or wires can feel uncomfortable and cause trouble falling asleep. If this happens and you don’t normally have difficulty falling asleep, it may be recommended that you try it again the following night. It is also possible that the sensors may come detached. If this happens, you may need an in-lab polysomnography test at a sleep center.
The results of the test will be scored by a sleep technician and sent to your physician to review. Your physician may have you come in for a more in-depth, in-lab sleep study, or may have the information they need to prescribe treatment.
What Happens After You Get the Results of Your Sleep Apnea Test?
If you have sleep apnea there is a good chance that your doctor will prescribe a CPAP machine, which is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, and is a machine attached to a hose and mask. The mask is worn during sleep and pressure is used to hold your airway open and keep it from being obstructed.
Depending on what is causing your apnea, other treatments may include sinus medications or nasal sprays, weight loss or other lifestyle changes, anti-snore mouthpieces, changing your sleep position, and in some cases, surgery.
As mentioned, letting sleep apnea go undiagnosed and untreated can lead to serious health conditions and even death. If you think you may have sleep apnea, contact your health provider to see if at-home sleep apnea testing is right for you.
- Punjabi, N., Aurora, R., Patil, S. (2013). Home Sleep Testing for Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Chest, 143(2): 291-294. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3566993/
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