What will happen at my Sleep Study?

Having a sleep study can be a pretty daunting experience. As a sleep scientist I have seen a lot of anxious patients unsure of what to expect. I am often asked the same questions – do I have to have all this equipment on? What will happen if I can’t sleep? No, I didn’t receive the information letter suggesting I wear loose clothing etc (don’t be this person).

When you go for a sleep study, expect to be set up with some equipment. It normally consists of some electrodes on your head and face, as well as some to measure your heart rhythm, a few bands which measure respiratory effort around your chest and abdomen, nasal cannula for measuring airflow, a probe over your finger to estimate your oxygen saturation and some leads on your shins to measure leg movements. All of these wires are attached to a main unit or ‘yoke’ either on your chest or on the wall of the sleep lab room. This may sound like a lot, and it is, but trust me – the majority of people are able to have something that resembles a night’s sleep with all of this on.

In Lab Sleep Study

If you are doing an overnight study in a sleep lab, you will have a few more electrodes on your head and you will have at least one member of staff there for the duration to reattach any flyaway wires and make sure you are alright. These staff members are in a separate room and will be monitoring the signals to make sure the study is going well. If you have trouble sleeping in unfamiliar places, it may be worth requesting sedation for your study – I would advise finding out if this is an option prior to coming in for the night. If you are not very mobile or require a hoist to get in and out of bed, advise the staff of this as they will need to take the necessary measures to ensure both yours and their safety.

You normally arrive between 6-8 on the night of your study and it takes about 45 minutes to be set up with all of the equipment. You will be encouraged to attempt sleep by 9/10pm and then that’s it; sleep as best you can until early the next morning. If you need to go to the bathroom during the night, press the call button and a sleep scientist will be in to disconnect the equipment. Do not just jump up and go into the bathroom! In the morning you will be woken at about 6/7am and all the equipment removed. There may be facilities for you to have a shower should you need to, or this can be done at home. Please note that the overnight staff are not nurses/healthcare assistants, and hospital policy does not cover them to assist you with bathing the next day. Fill out your questionnaires and then off you pop home. About a week later the analysed results should be back with your referring doctor and/or sleep specialist.

Home Based Sleep Study (HBSS)

A sleep study at home may be suitable for you if you have a high probability of having Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). The probability of having OSA is assessed by your sleep specialist or GP by taking your history and completing some questionnaires.

For the HBSS, you go into the Sleep Clinic late in the afternoon (to give the leads less time to fall off before bed!) and have an hour-long appointment where the equipment will be attached to you and you will be given instructions on what to do at home. Please wear loose clothing, as close to PJ’s as possible, and if you have the confidence to wear them PJ’s are fine! No skinny jeans, tight dresses or for the sake of all things righteous, tights! Beware of any sleep study where you set the equipment up yourself at home – these are normally rubbish and not worth the time.

The idea is that you try to have as normal a night for you as possible; if you go to sleep at midnight, do it; if you drink four beers before bed then enjoy them! What we are looking for is how you sleep on a night that is normal for you. You will have a sleep diary to fill out asking how you got on, and an appointment the next morning to return the equipment. You will not get your results at this appointment, rather the signals will be checked to make sure the study worked and your blood pressure taken. Your study will be analysed and reported and back with your referring doctor/sleep specialist within the week.

HBSS or In Lab Study?

If you are unsure of what is going to be best for you, consult your specialist who will recommend the appropriate study. The table below indicates when each type of study may be more suitable:

HBSS In Lab
– High probability of OSA (high BMI, male, female over 50 years old, snoring, unrefreshed, people have witnessed you stop breathing, high blood pressure, increased neck circumference).
– If you will not be able to sleep in a hospital environment.
– Cheaper. More realistic option if not covered by private insurance.
– More likely to represent a normal night for you.  
– If you have a low probability of OSA or possibility of any other sleep disorders going on.
– Lower failure rate.
– Have the support of the staff throughout the night.  

I hope this post gives you all the information you need to save any worry about coming in for a study, whichever you go for. Email me at aaboutsleep@gmail.com if you have any questions!

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