How Does a Sleep Study Work?
- Overnight sleep studies provide detailed information about the unique physiology of sleep which is instrumental in the diagnosis of difficulty with sleep and sleep disorders.
- During the sleep study, electrodes and sensors are noninvasively attached for recording the electrical activity of the brain and muscles as well as for recording breathing, oxygen levels, and heart rate during sleep.
- Patient concerns about why a sleep study is needed, what happens if you have trouble sleeping during the study, and safety of the procedures are discussed in the article.
- The goal of the sleep evaluation is for an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of the sleep problem resulting in an improved quality of waking life.
Overnight Sleep Studies: What are they and how can a study help solve my sleep problem?
If you have trouble with your sleep or you feel drowsy during the day even after a full night’s sleep, you are not alone. Several large surveys in recent years have shown that up to one third of the population has significant difficulty with sleep. Sleep disorders can affect everyone from babies to the elderly.
But why do we care about poor quality sleep or too little sleep? There is a common misconception that missing a few hours of sleep is really not all that important, and at worst it is a minor inconvenience. However, poor sleep and daytime drowsiness have been linked, among other problems, to increased numbers of automobile accidents, poor work and school, performance, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression. Thus, poor quality sleep and too little sleep make us vulnerable to a decrease in our quality of waking life. If your sleep has begun to interfere with your health and quality of life, your doctor may refer you to a Sleep Center for an overnight study in order to discover the cause of your symptoms. The purpose of this article is to give you a description of what occurs during these studies.
You may see the terms polysomnographic evaluation or nocturnal polysomnogram used in referring to an overnight sleep study. In a nutshell, a polysomnographic evaluation consists of recordings of your brain and bodily activity during a study sleep which is performed overnight in a Sleep Center. Polysomnographic evaluations provide detailed, invaluable information about the activity of the body and brain during sleep that cannot be discovered during waking as the result of major physiological changes during sleep. These changes can be associated with disorders that are unique to sleep. We all know how sleepy, drowsy, and out of sorts we feel during the day if we do not get a good night’s sleep. So really the purpose for sleep is not just to sleep at night, but to ensure our overall health and optimal functioning during the day.
Full polysomnographic monitoring, which we discuss in detail later, is the “gold standard” for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. Recently, new technology has been developed to allow limited polysomnography to be performed with portable monitoring devices which are worn at home. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of monitoring, and the details of portable monitoring studies are discussed in a separate article.
Before we discuss the details of what happens during a sleep study, let’s address some very general questions that you may immediately have when you are first referred to a Sleep Center.