The process of being diagnosed for sleep apnea or any other sleep disorder can feel like a lengthy one, but being knowledgeable prior to starting can be very helpful. When you’ve finally completed the hardest part of the sleep apnea diagnosis process — the sleep study — you will be ready to learn about your sleep study results. From scoring services to how your sleep study score is calculated, here is everything you need to know about the final phase of diagnosis. Home sleep studies like WatchPAT™ ONE help walk you through the entire process from seeing if you are at risk to interpreting your results. Learn more here.
After your sleep study (polysomnogram or home sleep test) has been performed, there are 8 to 24 hours of data that need to be processed in order for it to be clinically useful. This usually means that the sleep study data will be reviewed by a sleep technologist (RPSGT or RST) and a sleep physician.
One of the ways your sleep study test results can be tabulated is by a sleep study scoring service. There are several services offered for polysomnograms (PSG) and home sleep tests (HST) that often include sleep physician interpretations.
Because the data is compressible and easily transferable, sleep studies may be sent from a sleep center or laboratory to a sleep tech in a different part of the world. The sleep study data is sent and reviewed by a sleep technologist (RPSGT or RST) and a sleep doctor. They are usually contracted for outsource sleep center services.
When looking for a sleep study scoring service, it is important to check that the people and service itself is credible and accredited. In order to fully vet the service to see if it meets expected standards, run through this checklist.
Cost depends on several variables, including volume of studies per month, type of software, and other services provided. Many professional sleep scorers charge within the range of $30 to $50 per sleep study. Home sleep tests are in a category of their own and tend to cost much less to have interpreted.
It is important to keep in mind that not everyone needs to go out and hire an outside study scoring service. The other option you may have is to get your data evaluated by the same sleep doctor and technologists at the sleep clinic you used for your sleep study. When you choose your sleep clinic, make sure to ask whether this will be possible for you. Normally, a sleep doctor charges $100 to $140 to interpret sleep study results.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, the data for your sleep study results was collected on stacks of paper that were covered in ink scribbles. Today, everything is digital and can be stored in a file on a computer.
The data that is collected includes electroencephalogram for brain waves (EEG), electrooculogram for eye movements (EOG), electromyogram for muscle activity (EMG), electrocardiogram for heart measurements (EKG), snore sounds, airflow, respiratory effort movements, and oxygenation from an oximetry probe on a finger. Audio and video are often collected as well.
After your sleep study data is collected, it is reviewed page-by-page by a sleep technologist who will score all of it into organized packets of clinical information. After that phase is completed by the sleep tech, your sleep study test results will be sent to a sleep doctor who will re-review the scored tech report and issue an interpretation of the sleep study. They may also include recommendations too.
The sleep doctor’s report will then be sent back to your referring clinician who will present the findings to you. Your primary physician or sleep doctor will finalize the process by discussing treatment options with you.
All in all, a sleep study can usually take about one to two weeks to be completed and ready for you to see. Some studies can be interpreted and ready sooner if there is an urgent need. Turnaround time will depend on several factors like the clinic, amount of backlog, contract stipulations, and type of equipment used.
For sleep apnea test results in particular, one of the most important pieces of information evaluated is the Apnea Hypopnea Index or AHI. If you’re specifically being tested for sleep apnea, you’ll want to know what this diagnostic tool is and how to interpret it.
The AHI scale is a measurement tool that represents the amount of times that a person stops breathing, or almost stops breathing per hour. The goal of using the AHI scale is to measure the severity of your sleep apnea. The AHI is the sum of the number of apneas (pauses in breathing) plus the number of hypopneas (periods of shallow breathing) that occur, on average, each hour.
To count apneas and hypopneas in the index (apneas and hypopneas together are called “events”), they must have a duration of at least 10 seconds. From there, your AHI scale results are calculated by dividing the number of events by the number of hours of sleep.
The AHI scale, in chart form, is made up of two columns: AHI and rating. You need to find your AHI score in order to interpret your sleep apnea rating. Here are the AHI values and corresponding ratings you can fall under.
After you’ve made your way through the entire process, from sleep study to sleep study test results, you may wonder what to do next. While final steps entirely depend on the patient and their specific diagnosis, there are a couple things to be prepared for.
Because you underwent an overnight sleep study (polysomnogram), there is a chance you were specifically being tested for sleep apnea. If you happen to receive a sleep apnea diagnosis, you will most likely be prescribed a type of positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy. Other treatments for sleep apnea include dental devices like mouthguards or smaller surgical procedures.
Besides a sleep apnea diagnosis, you may learn that you have a different type of sleep disorder. Narcolepsy, PLMD (periodic limb movement disorder), RBD (REM behavior disorder) or insomnia are some of the most common ones. These conditions can be treated with medication or even CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy).
While the process may be exhausting, taking the proper steps to get your diagnosis for sleep apnea or whichever sleep disorder you think you may have, is completely worth it. After consulting with your doctor, you will be able to decide on the best treatment option for you and be well on your way to getting a good night’s sleep. For those that haven’t started their diagnosis process yet, learn about your risk factor for sleep apnea by taking this quiz.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.