What is a Sleep Study? Do I Need One?

If you have been told by your doctor that you should have a sleep study performed, you probably wonder what’s involved. Keep in mind; sleep is essential for good health. If you don’t sleep well due to a sleep disorder, it can affect all areas of your life from your health to your relationships. Productivity, mood and motivation can all be negativity affected by poor sleep, which is why it’s important to have a sleep disorder diagnosed.

Unfortunately, many sleep disorders go undiagnosed. In fact, it’s common not even to realize you have a sleep disorder. For instance, if you are tired all the time, you might just chalk it up to stress or a normal part of aging. Even if you know your sleep is poor, you might brush the problem aside.

Why Get a Sleep Study?

A medical history and a symptom review are not enough for your doctor to make a definitive diagnosis, which is why a sleep study is so important. Getting an accurate diagnosis allows you to get the treatment you need to improve your sleep and overall quality of life.

There are different types of sleep studies based on your symptoms. For example, maintenance of wakefulness test measures your ability to stay awake and alert during the day.

But the most common type of sleep study is called a polysomnography. This overnight sleep study records various processes including eye movement, oxygen level and brain activity. The study is used to diagnose sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and period limb movement disorder.

What to Expect

Having someone watch you while you sleep may sound a little awkward, but knowing what to expect can ease your concerns. You’ll usually be asked to arrive at the sleep lab in the early evening. After reviewing the process and answering any questions, you will be asked to change into your nightclothes.

The technologist will attach several types of sensors to your scalp and skin to measure your brain activity and eye movement. A belt will be placed around your chest and stomach to measure your breathing effort. Electrodes are also attached to each leg to measure body movement. A sensor is placed on one finger to measure oxygen level.

After you’re all hooked up, you can make yourself at home in the bedroom. The tech will monitor you from another room and communicate through an intercom system. After all the machine calibrations are completed, it’s time to try to get some shuteye. You are free to follow your normal bedtime routine, such as reading, listening to music or watching TV.

You might think it will be difficult to sleep hooked up to wires and monitors, but most people can get enough sleep during the test for adequate data to be obtained. In the morning, the technologist will remove the electrodes and answer any questions you have. In a week or so and after reviewing the study, your sleep specialist will discuss treatment options.

How do I Prepare for A Sleep Study? 

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 and clothes for the morning, as well as toiletries that you may need in the morning, such as a toothbrush or razor.


National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. What to Expect During a Sleep Study? https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/slpst/during      Retrieved October 2016.

UCLA Sleep Disorder Center. Preparing for a Sleep Study. http://sleepcenter.ucla.edu/preparing-for-a-sleep-study   Retrieved October 2016.

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