When you’ve been struggling to get to sleep and/or to have several hours of uninterrupted sleep, and this has gone on for months, even years, you may have to talk with a specialist about sleep disorder.
In the last few years, medical professionals and researchers have developed test methods to measure how you sleep and how your body acts and reacts during sleep.
These tests don’t involve any physical pain and are what the industry calls “non-invasive.” During the testing phase your sleep is monitored and data is recorded electronically, to be studied later.
You may also be asked to take part in tests that follow your regular patterns when you’re awake, including a latency test to find out how quickly you fall asleep for daytime naps.
Some of the earlier studies were designed to help your doctor diagnose breathing disorders that are sleep-related. These include the commonly known sleep apnea, as well as seizure disorders, movement disorders and problems related to narcolepsy. In some cases, a study might involve diagnosing restless-leg syndrome.
A sleep disorder test may be conducted at a facility specially designed for the purpose, though it’s also possible to have testing completed at home with a portable device.
For testing at a sleep center, you’ll be sleeping in a bed at the site for the entire time of the study. The process includes putting removable sensors on the scalp, face, eyelids, chest, limbs and fingers.
These record several different types of data, including brain waves, heart rate, breathing rate, breathing effort, oxygen level and muscle movement.
Once the data is gathered, the medical professional will review the results and use this information to develop a treatment plan. If your results indicate the need for certain methods, you’ll be informed of the next steps to be taken.
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What it Means
When doctors measure brain waves during a sleep disorder test, they are gathering information that allows them to assess your sleep stages, identify disruptions in those stages and find the cause of the problems.
They’re also looking for changes and problems with heart rate and breathing rate, as well as changes in blood oxygen that are outside the limits considered normal and healthy. This part of the test helps the doctor prescribe oxygen or breathing-assistance equipment for home use.
The study will also look closely at leg movements that can disrupt your sleep, as well as any other movements considered unusual. This may indicate an REM behavior disorder or another issue that must be treated.
The complete testing procedure generally goes by the name polysomnography. Results will be studied and reviewed for about two weeks, then a follow-up appointment is scheduled so the doctor can review your results.
Preparation for a sleep study may involve not drinking caffeinated beverages or alcoholic beverages on the day before the testing. These items can change sleep patterns and increase the problems you have with a sleep disorder. The study is most accurate when the doctor and the test personnel see data unaffected by these outside influences.
What to Expect
You should expect to spend the night at the sleep center, so you should bring your personal items with you, so you can follow your regular bedtime routine.
The room in which you sleep will look much like a room in a motel or hotel, and the atmosphere will generally be quiet and dark. You won’t be sharing a room with anyone else and you will have access to a private bathroom.
Keep in mind, your sleep will be recorded on video camera, so the monitoring personnel can see what’s happening in the room once the lights are turned off. There is also an audio system which will be used to communicate with you from the outside monitoring space.
Once the sensors are in place, you’ll be able to move as you normally would in the bed, because the wires are longer enough to allow this regular movement. Don’t worry about not falling asleep quickly or getting a full night’s sleep during the test. They’ll get accurate results even without this.
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When the testing is complete in the morning, you will leave the test center. An appointment is scheduled for a follow-up visit. Once the testing is complete, you will return to your regular activities. Polysomnography is an efficient, painless way to determine if you have a true sleep disorder.