THE BLOG
11/09/2013 09:39 am ET

What to Expect From a Sleep Study

If you aren't sleeping well or find yourself perpetually tired, your attempt to correct this condition should not necessarily begin by taking a pill or heaving your mattress into a dumpster. Often the conditions that prevent or interrupt sleep are conditions within the body itself, conditions that can be identified by a physician using the results of a diagnostic sleep study.

A diagnostic sleep study, also known as a polysomnogram (PSG), is a technique used to identify the presence of sleep disorders. At its core, a PSG simply involves connecting a patient to monitoring equipment and recording his or her sleep for a night. The information produced from a recording like this can provide invaluable clues that can lead to the root cause of a person's poor sleep.

Some of these studies are performed with take-home equipment, while others are performed in labs that typically resemble a hotel room. The studies conducted in a lab tend to be considerably more thorough and involved than their take-home counterparts, so let's take a look at what a patient can expect during an in-lab study.

When you first arrive, you'll need to check in. There could be a little paperwork required if you haven't completed it beforehand. Here you'll meet your sleep technologist, a smiling nocturnal sort who will show you around the lab. The sleep technologist will be charged with the task of conducting your study throughout the night.

Rooms tend to vary from lab to lab, but these should at least be clean, near a restroom, and furnished with a comfy bed, cable television, and plenty of blankets. Be sure to bring a few familiar items from home as well -- such as a pillow, blanket, or book -- to make the experience more comfortable. At this point, you'll get settled in, donning your PJs and getting ready for bed.

When you're ready, the technologist will come in and begin the "hook-up," which is the term for the process where you sit watching television while the technologist connects the monitoring equipment. These studies involve more than 20 wires, more than half of which are on the head. Using tape and a conductive paste, it usually takes a sleep technologist around 45 minutes to put all of these wires in place. The next morning, everything should easily come right off with a little warm water and a light adhesive remover, but your hair will not be presentable until it's been given a little attention.

Two questions are more or less inevitable at this point: With all of this equipment, how do I move around, and how do I sleep? The answer to both of these concerns is surprisingly simple. First, all of the wires can be attached outside or just inside of your clothing, bundled together, and plugged into a small box that then connects to a bedside cable. If you need to get out of bed, you should be able to inform your technologist, who will come in and disconnect the box to allow you to get up and move around as needed. Sleeping should be no problem either. The wires are small and easy to get used to after a few minutes. If you're particularly sensitive to sleeping in new environments, then you may benefit from a sleep aid, which you'll need to get prior to the study as most labs won't be able to provide them on-site. Be sure to consult with your physician about which sleep aid is appropriate for you.

After that, it's simple: sleep, wake up, get unhooked and have a great day. Remember that your technologist is not allowed to tell you what happened. You can ask, but mum's the word unfortunately for a variety of very good reasons that I'll spare you here. Results generally take a week or two to process, depending on the lab, after which you'll meet with a physician to discuss. Be sure to note that I'm only describing a general diagnostic sleep study here. There are several variations in terms of structure, equipment and other factors that apply when certain disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or narcolepsy, have been identified or are suspected. Perhaps I'll describe those for you in another blog. In the meantime, if you're having trouble sleeping don't just trudge around -- be scientific about it. Talk to your physician. A long-term solution may require a little more than some new bedding or a spoonful of Nyquil -- and it may in fact save your life.

About Parkway SleepHealth Centers:

Sam Cross, registered polysomnographic technologist, is the lab manager for Parkway SleepHealth Centers, a comprehensive sleep health facility and innovative leader in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. Parkway's sleep center allows patients to be observed and assessed during overnight sleep sessions to determine the cause of their sleep problems; patients may also participate in daytime sleep sessions when appropriate. In his role, Cross conducts all of the home and daytime testing for the sleep clinic's patients and maintains the standards, equipment and personnel of the sleep lab. In addition, he is responsible for reviewing the recorded data of each study performed.