What is a Sleep Study?

What is a Sleep Study?
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Most people don’t get the right amount of sleep each night that their bodies need to function properly the next day. While in some cases family, stress, or work may be the cause of a restless night, an underlying sleep disorder may be the culprit in keeping you from getting quality sleep each night. If you or your doctor suspect a sleep disorder may be behind your sleepless nights, a sleep study is generally the first step towards diagnosis and treatment.

What is a sleep study?

Sleep studies help doctors to diagnose sleep disorders and nighttime behaviors that may be affecting your quality of sleep, general health, and daily life. A sleep study is a non-invasive exam that allows your doctor to monitor you while you sleep and get a better understanding of how your brain and body function while you are asleep. Sleep studies can also be done to re-evaluate your treatment plan if you were already undergoing treatment for a diagnosed sleep disorder.

The sleep test, also known as a polysomnography, is used to diagnose a range of sleep disorders ranging from sleep-related breathing disorders, abnormal sleep behaviors, movement disorders, and teeth grinding. During sleep testing, your brain waves, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing pattern, position, sounds, and bodily movements are monitored and recorded.

As a non-invasive and painless test, it is highly recommended for those who suspect a sleep disorder or want to know how to improve their sleep quality. Patients may experience minor skin irritation due to adhesives used to attach sensors onto your skin.

How do you prepare for your sleep test?

A sleep study is typically performed during an overnight stay to record your normal sleep better but can be scheduled during the day as well in some cases. Your doctor may ask you to avoid drinking or eating any caffeine or alcohol products before your test as they may affect your study. Napping before a sleep test is not recommended. Patients should avoid applying lotions, gels, perfumes, cologne, or makeup before their test as this may interfere with the use of electrodes.

What happens during the test?

Sleep studies work to monitor your sleep stages and cycles to identify if or when your sleeping pattern is disrupted and why. Patients are often asked to arrive two hours before their scheduled bedtime. You may bring any personal items that you use during your normal bedtime routine including reading materials, pillows, and nightclothes.

Sleep centers try to mimic a home environment as much as possible and most rooms contain comfortable bedding and a hotel-like atmosphere with its own bathroom. The sleeping area will generally be kept cool and dark.

Once you are ready for bed, the technicians will place the sensors on your scalp, temples, chest, and legs using a mild adhesive such as glue or tape. These sensors will connect to a computer but are long enough that you can move comfortably while you sleep. A small clip is placed on your finger as well to monitor your blood oxygen levels. You may need a positive airway pressure (PAP) treatment during this study such as CPAP and BiPAP machines. This device uses a tightly sealed nosepiece to help enhance your breathing by delivering a gentle stream of air into the airway.

A low-light video camera and audio system will help the technicians monitor and communicate with you from outside the room while you sleep. If you need to get out of the room to use the bathroom, they will be able to come in and assist you in removing the sensors. Although you may not fall asleep as easily or sleep as well as you would at home, this typically does not affect the test results as a full night’s rest is not required to obtain accurate results. In the morning, the sensors are removed and you may leave the sleep center after scheduling a follow-up visit.


The results from the sleep test are evaluated by a sleep technician who will use the data to chart your sleep stages and cycles. The sleep technician will then give all the information over to your sleep doctor to review. At your follow-up appointment, your doctor will discuss the results with you and determine what treatment or further evaluation you may need.

Other types of sleep tests

Though the polysomnogram is the most common sleep test as it is good for testing a wide range of sleeping disorders, other sleep tests may be better suited for your condition.

  • CPAP Titration – CPAP Titration studies are often for those who are already diagnosed with a sleep-related disorder such as severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This study is conducted overnight and helps to determine the proper air pressure required to prevent obstruction in your airway and enhance your breathing while sleeping.
  • Home Testing – Home testing can be considered a simplified version of polysomnography. You will be given a test after receiving proper instructions from your sleep doctor on how to use the sensors. Though it can be successful, especially for those with a sleep-related breathing disorder, it is not ideal for those who may have other sleeping disorders such as insomnia or restless leg syndrome.
  • Maintenance of Wakefulness Test – This test challenges you to stay awake for a period of time in a relaxing, quiet, stimulation-free environment. These tests are administered after a full stay at the sleep clinic and work to determine how awake or alert a patient is during the day after sleeping through the night.
  • Multiple Sleep Latency Test – This test is used primarily for those with daytime sleepiness and used to measure how well your patient can fall asleep in a quiet environment. This is ideal for diagnosing patients with narcolepsy or idiopathic hypersomnia. It is a full-day test consisting of several naps scheduled a few hours apart.
  • Split Night Study – In some cases, a split night study may be performed. This study combines polysomnography with CPAP titration into one night. The first half of the night is polysomnography with CPAP titration during the second half to determine the patient’s PAP settings and reduce the time between diagnosis and treatment.

For more information on sleep testing and our services or to schedule an appointment, please contact our office at (919)230-2569.

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