Written by: Mallorie Stallings
Updated March 17, 2021
One in 3 Americans (1) report not getting enough shut eye each night. While health and lifestyle habits impact the quality and quantity of sleep, some people are unable to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night due to sleep disorders. Some of the more common sleep disorders (2) are insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy, but there are over 80 different sleep disorders in total. Many people who struggle with sleep concerns see improvement when they make lifestyle changes such as weight management, healthy diets, and adhering to better sleep hygiene practices. However, if you’re making lifestyle changes and still struggling to feel rested each morning, you may benefit from a sleep study.
What Is a Sleep Study?
A sleep study, also called polysomnography, is a tool used by doctors to help assess and diagnose (3) possible sleep disorders. Polysomnography measures various physiological changes such as heart and breathing rate, blood oxygen levels, eye and leg movements and brain waves while you sleep. The test monitors these changes with sensors that are taped to your skin. It is a non-invasive and painless test (4).
Usually, sleep studies are done at a sleep clinic. You’ll be asked to do your normal nighttime routine. The rooms are dark and comfortable, not at all like a typical hospital setting. You will be hooked up to the monitors by the sensors on your skin, and the test will begin.
Some sleep studies can be done in the comfort of your own home. The process for a home sleep study is similar: you carry out your normal bedtime routine, make sure your room is comfortable, attach the sensors or mask per the instructions and begin the test.
Why Might You Need a Sleep Study?
It’s a good idea to reach out to a doctor if you have any concerns about your sleep. Additionally, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you might benefit from seeking assistance from a doctor or sleep specialist:
- Loud snoring most nights
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue
- Headaches upon waking
- Hard time falling and staying asleep
- Frequently waking during the night
- Difficulty focusing or staying awake during the day
- Falling asleep without warning during the day
If you’re unsure whether you’re experiencing sleep-related symptoms, especially nighttime symptoms such as snoring, you may want to talk to a partner or roommate. You could also try a smartphone app that records sounds while you sleep to gain more information that you could share with your doctor.
What Can a Sleep Study Tell You?
A sleep study can help you and your doctor identify the cause of your symptoms and create a plan of action to get you back to sleeping soundly. Sleep apnea, insomnia, and narcolepsy are three sleep disorders that are commonly diagnosed at a sleep clinic.
Sleep apnea is caused by restricted airflow (5) while you sleep due to a partial or full blockage of your upper respiratory system. Sleep apnea causes symptoms such as:
- Frequent snoring
- Sudden reduction in breathing
- Coughing or gasping for air during the night
You may be at a higher risk for sleep apnea (6) if you are older, frequently drink alcohol and smoke, or if you have a high body mass index (BMI). Additional factors, such as ethnicity, family medical history, and if you still have your tonsils and adenoids may also increase your risk.
Insomnia is marked by the inability to fall asleep (7) and stay asleep, resulting in feeling groggy and exhausted the following day. It’s important to note that insomnia can be short-term, usually spurred by a change in lifestyle or stress. Insomnia can also be chronic, or long-term. Chronic insomnia persists three nights or more during the week and does not improve despite lifestyle changes. Insomnia symptoms include:
- Lying awake for long periods of time
- Short sleep duration when you do fall asleep
- Waking up early in the morning despite not sleeping well
- Overall poor quality of sleep
You may be at a higher risk (8) for experiencing short-term and chronic insomnia if you have inconsistent bedtimes each night or a disruptive sleep environment, if you are a shift worker, or if you use technology in bed. You might also experience insomnia if you use drugs, alcohol, or certain medications, if you are pregnant or if you experience other health issues that impact sleep quality.
Narcolepsy, another common sleep disorder, impacts your ability to stay awake (9) during the day. Narcolepsy is marked by “sleep attacks” or periods of overwhelming feelings of sleepiness that at times can result in falling asleep. Another common symptom of narcolepsy is cataplexy, the temporary loss of muscle tone as a response to an emotion like laughing or crying. This usually resolves itself in a few minutes, but can be frightening to experience. Other common symptoms include (10):
- Trouble staying awake or focused during the day
- Waking frequently during the night
- Hallucinations upon waking or falling asleep
- Sleep paralysis
The risk factors for narcolepsy are primarily genetic. A doctor can help you explore narcolepsy risk factors and your own medical history.
How Do You Get a Sleep Study?
If you’re concerned that you’re experiencing sleep-related symptoms despite making changes to improve your sleep health, contact your doctor for an appointment. In preparation for your appointment, it could help to keep a log of your sleep disruptions to share with your doctor. If your doctor assesses that you may benefit from a sleep study, you will be referred to a sleep clinic.
The cost of a sleep study depends on factors such as what the clinic charges and what your insurance provider covers. It’s important to work with your doctor, the sleep clinic, and your insurance provider when arranging a sleep study so that you are fully informed of the costs involved.
Polysomnography tests are painless, non-invasive, and beneficial for some people who have sleep symptoms that may be due to an underlying sleep disorder.
- https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html Accessed on March 15, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/sleepdisorders.html Accessed on March 15, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003932.htm Accessed on March 15, 2021.
- https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-studies Accessed on March 15, 2021
- https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-apnea Accessed on March 15, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/sleepapnea.html Accessed on March 15, 2021.
- https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/insomnia Accessed on March 15, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000805.htm Accessed on March 15, 2021.
- https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/narcolepsy/ Accessed on March 15, 2021.
- ttps://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/narcolepsy Accessed on March 15, 2021.