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Sleep Study: Revealing the Mystery

by BetterSleep
Oct 22 • 4 min

The idea of submitting to a sleep study may seem intimidating. It requires that you sleep while being monitored in a medical setting. If you have sleep problems or health issues possibly related to sleep, this test can give your doctor valuable information. Understanding what the process is like can make it seem much less scary. A sleep study requires a whole night of your time, but it doesn’t have to be frightening.

What is a polysomnography?

The long, scientific word for a sleep study is polysomnography. It is a medical diagnostic test that just happens to take longer and be a little more involved than other, simpler tests like drawing blood. During a sleep study you are monitored throughout a complete night of sleep, usually in a sleep clinic or a sleep unit of a hospital.

Polysomnography measures brain waves, depth of sleep, blood oxygen levels, breathing, heart rate, eye movements, and body movements. All of this information, collected while you’re sleeping, helps doctors diagnose sleep-related conditions.

When you might need a sleep study

People who benefit from this test are those with insomnia or other sleep issues, like snoring. You may not even be aware that your sleep patterns are disruptive at night. Certain symptoms may provide clues: fatigue, weight gain, headaches in the morning, and memory problems. If you tell your doctor that you’re exhibiting any of these symptoms, they may suspect you have a sleep condition.

The most common sleep problem is sleep apnea, irregular and stopped breathing while you sleep. A recent research has connected this condition to an increased risk of heart disease. Snoring is an important sign you may have sleep apnea. Because of the serious potential consequences, it’s well worth checking out. Before going forward with a sleep study, make sure you have gone through our definitive guide to restful sleep to fix the everyday habits that might be at the root of your insomnia.

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What it’s like to go through a sleep study

The idea of sleeping in a lab, hooked up to equipment, is not appealing, but a sleep study is easier and more comfortable than most people imagine. Sleep labs are set up to mimic hotel rooms, and not sterile hospital rooms like you may think. You will sleep alone in the room while a technician in another room records information collected by sensors.

Arriving in the evening—or possibly during the day if you work night shifts—you will change into pajamas before a tech attaches sensors to your head and body. The sensor have long wires coming from them so that you will be able to move freely while sleeping. They measure brain waves and body movements.

You may also have clips attached to a finger or an earlobe to measure blood oxygen and a stretchy belt across your chest or abdomen to record breathing. If you are being tested for sleep apnea, you may need to wear a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.

It may seem like this is a lot to sleep with, but you will be surprised at how quickly it feels normal. The technician will also work with you as long as it takes to adjust all the equipment and sensors for maximum comfort.

Preparing for a Sleep Study

For the best results and to be most comfortable, there are some things you should do to prepare for your sleep study:

  • Take a shower and wash your hair so the sensors adhere completely.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch.
  • Do not have alcohol before arriving at the study center.
  • Bring comfy PJs and something to read.
  • Use a sleep app such as BetterSleep to unwind and fall asleep faster.
  • Let your doctor know about any medications or supplements you take.

During the study, feel free to move as needed. Your doctor knows that you probably won’t be getting your best night’s sleep in this situation. If you need to go to the bathroom or have any issues, there is a tech available throughout the night who can detach the equipment.

After the night is over, sleep specialists will have hundreds of pages of data to consider. Expect a couple of weeks before your doctor has the complete analysis. The information will help your doctor diagnose any conditions. It will also guide your treatment steps or recommendations for lifestyle changes so you can get a better.night’s sleep.

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