The first step to treating any form of sleep apnea is getting diagnosed. After consulting with your doctor, the first plan of action may be to get tested. There are a variety of sleep study tests that can be done either at home or in a lab. Learn more about what these tests entail, how to prepare for them, and more.
Home Sleep Test
The first type of sleep study test that you and your doctor may consider is a home sleep test. A home sleep apnea test (HST) is a sleep study test used for the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Home sleep tests usually measure the same biologic parameters. Here are the major elements that will be studied during your home sleep apnea test.
- Nasal and oral airflow: Airflow data is collected by using a thin wire that is taped by the nose and mouth. Some sensors look like an oxygen cannula.
- Respiratory effort: This element is tested with elastic belt bands that are placed across the chest and abdomen.
- Oximeter finger probe: Data for this parameter is collected with a small, clip-like device that attaches to the fingertip. The device emits a red light that assists in the evaluation of oxygen levels in the blood while sleeping.
Once you have received your home sleep test, you will apply the sensors to your body before sleep time. Typically, you sleep with the equipment for one to three nights. After you have completed your nighttime monitoring, you will need to return the equipment to the diagnostic service company where the data is downloaded and processed for interpretation by a sleep physician.
After the home sleep test data is interpreted by a sleep physician, a diagnostic interpretation report is sent back to the ordering physician who discusses the results with you.
The other diagnostic tool for the evaluation of obstructive sleep apnea is polysomnography. A polysomnography test (PSG) is a diagnostic test similar to that of a home sleep test, but with additional measurements. It is done in a laboratory setting with a sleep technician or sleep technologist and is often three times more expensive than a home sleep test.
A polysomnography uses the same sensors as a home sleep test, but also includes EEG, EKG, EMG, and other biologic measurements used in a laboratory setting. With the additional medical devices used in a polysomnography test, technicians are able to study a wide range of bodily functions. Here are a few of them.
- Brain waves
- Eye movements
- Skeletal muscle activity
- Heart rate and rhythm
- Blood pressure
- Breathing patterns
- Blood oxygen level
- Body position
Sleep Apnea Test Criteria
Most insurance companies have specific criteria that are required in order for them to cover your sleep study test. These criteria vary from insurance payer to payer.
Generally, they require that you have specific symptoms prior to the sleep study. Also, many insurance companies need you to have a face-to-face visit with a physician prior to ordering a sleep study test. Most often, you will need to have some of the following symptoms: excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), snoring, witnessed apneas during sleep, nighttime gasping or choking, or change in certain behaviors.
The criteria for having a home sleep test is often less cumbersome than that of an in-laboratory sleep study. For the latter, certain medical conditions are sometimes required to be present for you to qualify. These might include congestive heart failure (CHF), COPD, or other complex medical conditions.
During your office visit with your physician, you will be asked many questions relating to your sleep. The doctor may also refer you to a sleep doctor prior to the sleep study. A focused physical examination will include evaluation of your mouth and airway, heart and lungs, and possibly a neurological assessment.
Preparing For a Sleep Study Test
Your main job during a sleep study is to sleep. It sounds pretty simple, but there are a few things you can do to prepare for your study.
- Avoid using any gels or sprays in your hair before the study. These substances can prevent the electrodes from sticking to your scale properly.
- Don’t take a nap before the study. Sleeping during the day may make it difficult for you to fall asleep during the study.
- Avoid beverages that contain caffeine, which can also interfere with falling asleep.
- Wear something comfortable to sleep in.
- Bring any medication you need overnight, as well as clothes for the morning. Also, bring toiletries that you may need in the morning, such as a toothbrush or razor.
Having a sleep study or sleep apnea test is a common process. With a little preparation, your sleep study will go smoothly. Learn more about preparing for a sleep study.
Why It’s Important to Get a Sleep Study Test
Even though the cost and inconvenience of a sleep study test may be intimidating, it is important to get a diagnosis. Sleep is essential for good health and if you don’t sleep well due to a sleep disorder, it can affect all areas of your life. Productivity, mood, and motivation can all be negatively affected by poor sleep.
A medical history and a symptom review are not enough for your doctor to make a definitive sleep apnea diagnosis, which is why a sleep study test is so crucial. Getting an accurate diagnosis allows you to get the treatment you need to improve your sleep and overall quality of life.
Whether you decide to undergo a home sleep test or a sleep study test administered at a sleep center, you are one step closer to obtaining your sleep apnea diagnosis.
Now that you know about the different types of tests, how they work, and best prepping practices, you’re ready to make an appointment with your doctor to get yourself on the path to a healthier and happier life. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to see if you’re at risk for sleep apnea, take this quiz to learn your results.
- Cruz, S. D., Littner, M. R., & Zeidler, M. R. (2014, October). Home sleep testing for the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea-indications and limitations. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25353100
- Punjabi, N. M., Aurora, R. N., & Patil, S. P. (2013). Home sleep testing for obstructive sleep apnea: one night is enough!. Chest, 143(2), 291–294. https://doi.org/10.1378/chest.12-2699
- What is “normal” sleep? (2016, December 30). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279322/
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