What are Sleep Studies: Overview, Benefits, and Expected Results

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What are Sleep Studies? Overview, Benefits, and‍ Expected Results

Sleep studies or polysomnograms are tests used to ​help diagnose ⁢and treat sleep disorders. Polysomnograms measure and monitor physical, mental, and bodily functions during sleep. The test involves placing electrodes on your head ⁤and ‌other parts of your body.

Overview of⁢ Polysomnograms

A polysomnogram‌ records ‌various indicators of sleep and wakefulness including your brain waves, eye movements, muscle activity, ⁢oxygen level, breathing patterns, and heart⁢ rhythm. It ‌can also⁤ measure snoring and apneas, which are pauses in​ breathing.

The purpose⁢ of a sleep study is to diagnose common sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and other⁣ sleep-related breathing problems, narcolepsy, epilepsy, and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).⁢ Depending on‍ the lab, a sleep⁣ study may ​also be conducted to diagnose daytime‌ sleepiness, insomnia, snoring, and restless leg⁣ syndrome (RLS).

Benefits of Having a Sleep Study

Having a sleep study⁣ can help your doctor determine the underlying cause of your sleep disruptions. This can help determine the best course of treatment for your sleep disorder.​ In some cases, a sleep study ​may also be recommended if you ⁣are having difficulty ​remaining asleep or waking up feeling excessively tired.

Sleep studies can⁣ also provide insight into daytime ​fatigue, chronic ⁣headaches, depression, irritability, and other ⁢potential symptoms ⁢of sleep‌ deprivation. By providing⁣ accurate and detailed readings of your ‍sleep, a sleep study can help your doctor make a more accurate diagnosis and develop​ an effective treatment plan.

What to Expect During a Sleep Study

A sleep study⁢ requires you to stay overnight in a sleep lab or sleep center. The ‌lab is equipped with comfortable beds and a variety of monitoring equipment. The atmosphere of the sleep ⁤lab is designed to mimic the environment of your own bedroom as closely as possible to ensure ​accurate results.

Before a sleep study, you will​ be asked to provide your ⁣personal sleep-related information. This includes ‌any‌ sleep disturbances you may be experiencing as⁣ well as medications ⁣and substances you take. You may also be asked⁣ to sign a consent form that outlines the purpose of the sleep‌ study and the risks associated with it.

Once​ you are in the ‍sleep lab,⁢ the technician will attach various sensors to your body. The ⁤sensors will measure items such as brain waves, muscle activity, heart rate, ⁢and breathing. The technician will also take a blood oxygen sample and record your snoring.

During the sleep‌ study, you ‌will ⁢generally be ‌asked to remain awake until the technician determines that you are asleep. Once you are asleep, the technician will ‌note any issues that may arise during your sleep such‍ as sleep apnea or snoring. ⁢

Results of a Sleep Study

Once the sleep study is complete, the ‍technician will analyze​ the data. Your⁤ physician will‍ receive the ⁣report of the findings. The⁢ report will include details of your sleep patterns, such as how deeply you were sleeping, for ‍how long, and​ any sleep-related events that ⁢occurred.

The physician will then review the ⁤results of your sleep study and make a diagnosis. Depending ⁤on the diagnosis, ⁤additional treatments may be recommended. For example, if you have ‍been diagnosed with obstructive sleep ⁢apnea (OSA), your doctor may suggest a variety of treatments, including lifestyle changes, medications, surgery, and/or the use of a positive​ airway pressure (PAP) machine for breathing purposes while sleeping.


Sleep⁢ studies are a ⁤useful tool for⁤ diagnosing and treating sleep disorders. They ‍allow doctors to better understand the cause of various sleep disruptions, allowing them to develop more effective treatment plans. It is important to note that results⁢ of a sleep study​ may vary from person to person. Therefore, it is important to discuss the results‍ of your sleep ‌study with your doctor⁢ so that they can recommend the best course of ⁤action.

Definition & Overview

Sleep studies are painless, non-invasive tests that are used to measure how well a person sleeps, how the body copes with sleeping problems, and determine the causes of the problem, if there are any. They work by recording the condition of the body during the different stages of sleep and are commonly used in the diagnosis of sleep disorders and determining their severity. These tests play a major role in the treatment of sleep disorders, which, when left alone, may increase a person’s risk of several major health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Who should undergo and expected results

A person should undergo a sleep study if he experiences the early signs of sleeping disorders, such as:

  • any disturbing changes in the sleep cycle
  • having problems sleeping soundly
  • excessive snoring
  • difficulty staying awake, which is characteristic of a sleep disorder called narcolepsy
  • bstructed breathing during sleep, which is a characteristic of sleep apnea
  • sleepwalking
  • night terrors
  • bed-wetting
  • insomnia
  • twitching of the feet, arms, or legs repeatedly during sleep, which is a characteristic of a disorder called periodic limb movement disorder

Sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder, is one of the top reasons why people undergo sleep studies. A serious disorder, it stops the person’s breathing several times during the night and these episodes last longer than 10 seconds.

Insomnia is also a common sleep disorder that most often observed in people who are going through a lot of stress, physical discomfort, or experiencing depression.

The sleep study is designed to diagnose different types of sleeping disorders so the patient can seek the most appropriate form of treatment.

How the procedure works

To understand how sleep studies work, there must first be an understanding of the different stages of sleep. The body enters two different stages during sleep; the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stage and the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. In normal cases, the body alternates between REM and NREM for about 4 to 5 times during one night’s sleep. If this normal alternating cycle is disrupted, the body will not be able to get a sound and complete rest.

A sleep study tries to detect any changes in the cycle by recording and observing different body functions during sleep. The specific information collected differs based on each type of sleep test, which may be any one of the following:

  • Multiple sleep latency test or MSLT – This is a sleep test that determines whether or not the patient enters the very important REM sleep stage. It is also effective in measuring the amount of time it takes a person to fall asleep, which can give clues about the presence of sleep disorders namely narcolepsy and idiopathic hypersomnia, both of which cause tiredness during the day. This is, however, a daytime sleep study, and is usually performed in conjunction with a polysomnogram, which is a nighttime test.
  • Polysomnogram – A polysomnogram observes the body’s functions while a person is sleeping. It records the movement of the eyes, levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body, rate and rhythm of the heart and breathing, snoring (if any), movements of the body muscles, rise and fall of the chest and belly, and most importantly, brain activity. These are recorded by sensors connected to the nose, face, scalp, and fingers, and elastic belt sensors that are placed on the chest and belly. The sensors transmit the information collected to a nearby computer, which is then read by a sleep lab technician.
  • Maintenance of wakefulness test or MWT – This test focuses on a person’s ability to stay awake at a time when he should normally be awake. The test is conducted by asking the patient to try and stay awake for as long as possible while he is sitting on a comfortable chair. The test typically involves 4 repetitions of 40-minute long trials with an interval of 2 hours in between. Every time the patient falls asleep, the sleep lab technician will wake him up after 90 seconds.
  • Actigraphy – This is a special test used mainly for diagnosing problems with the body clock (or circadian rhythm) or a specific type of disorder called the shift work sleep disorder that usually affects people who work at night and sleep during the daytime. This test is conducted by making the patient wear a wrist device that records whether he is asleep or awake, so the attending physician can learn the usual routine of sleep and wake during a person’s day.

Since a person has to fall asleep during a sleep study, certain preparations need to be done prior to undergoing such a test. Most specialists require patients to keep a sleep journal for about 1 or 2 weeks prior to the scheduled test. At least three days before the test, patients are advised to refrain from taking naps and drinking caffeinated food and beverages. They are also advised to refrain from taking any drugs or medications.

To make it easier for the patient to fall asleep during the test, sleep studies are usually scheduled in the evening, during the usual time of sleeping. The patient is then advised to take a shower or bath to relax the body, but must refrain from putting on any makeup, spray, oil, gel, or polish on the face, hair, and fingers, which can interfere with the test equipment that will be used.

Possible risks and complications

Sleep studies are a safe and painless way to detect the presence of various sleep problems, and they come with very little risk of complications. In fact, the only possible side effect is some redness on the skin where the electrodes are glued.


  • Collop NA, Anderson WM, Boehlecke B, et al. Clinical guidelines for the use of unattended portable monitors in the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea in adult patients. Portable Monitoring Task Force of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. J Clin Sleep Med. 2007;3:737-747.

  • Epstein LJ, Kristo D, Strollo PJ Jr. Adult Obstructive Sleep Apnea Task Force of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Clinical guideline for the evaluation, management, and long-term care of obstructive sleep apnea in adults. J Clin Sleep Med. 2009;5:263-276.

  • Qaseem A, Holty JE, Owens DK, Dallas P, Starkey M, Shekelle P; for the Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Management of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. Sep. 24, 2013.



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