What is a sleep study?
A sleep study is where a monitor is used to record and measure the quality of your sleep. A sleep physician analyses the data and assesses if you have sleep apnoea, or another sleep disorder, and whether this is the cause of your snoring or tiredness.
Included in the sleep study report are recommendations from the sleep physician on the optimal form of treatment based on the severity of any diagnosed sleep apnoea.
What are the indications for having a sleep study?
The main indication is regular snoring, especially if it is loud enough to disturb others sleeping close by. Snoring is a sign of airway obstruction. While it can cause significant social problems with people sleeping in separate bedrooms, snoring can also be a sign of a medical problem impacting your health.
Over 70% of people who regularly snore have some degree of sleep apnoea, with the vast majority of people unaware that they have it. Other common indicators that you may have sleep apnoea, and need a study, are waking unrefreshed, despite getting more than six hours sleep, and excessive sleepiness during the day.
Another tell-tale sign of sleep apnoea is whether other people notice disturbances in your breathing, or you wake yourself gasping or choking. However, it is essential to recognise that many people with significant sleep apnoea don’t have apparent disturbances to their breathing and mistakenly believe that sleep apnoea couldn’t be present because no one has witnessed it.
What is the main reason for doing a sleep study? Is it essential?
A sleep study is the only way of diagnosing and knowing for sure whether you have sleep apnoea. What is perhaps just as important as a diagnosis is to know how severe the sleep apnoea is, and a sleep study is the only way this can be assessed. The severity of the sleep apnoea will determine the optimal treatment choice for sleep apnoea to give you the best chance of overcoming it.
It is also important to know whether you are dealing with what’s known as simple snoring or if you are also dealing with sleep apnoea, which is a medical problem with potentially severe health effects. For example, if you are using an oral appliance for your snoring, you would want to know whether you still require using it if your partner is not present or when sleeping alone. The level of sleep apnoea is also important to optimally adjust either of the two major treatments-oral appliances or CPAP.
What is measured in a sleep study?
The most common parameters measured in the sleep study are:
- Airflow and whether there is any interference to your breathing during sleep
- Blood oxygen levels while asleep, as this can drop if there is any reduction in airflow.
- The loudness of snoring in decibels.
- Body position during sleep – whether you’re sleeping on your back and your side. This can be an important measurement as for many people their sleep apnoea is a lot less severe when they’re sleeping on their side rather than their back.
- Heart rate activity can also be measured. This can pick up if sleep apnoea is causing any problems with the functioning of the heart.
What are the different ways you can do a sleep study?
There are two main ways of doing a sleep study – one which can be done at your home or by an overnight stay in a hospital.
One of the great benefits of improvements in technology is that most sleep studies are now done in the patient’s own home. Not only is this a more comfortable and convenient way of doing a sleep study, it also allows for a more accurate assessment of your sleep in your usual environment
Is it possible to know you have sleep apnoea without a sleep study?
No. While a trained specialist can be quite sure that someone might have sleep apnoea just by the patient’s signs and symptoms, such as regular snoring and tiredness, the only way sleep apnoea can be diagnosed is with a sleep study.
It is just as important to know the severity of the sleep apnoea as is a diagnosis because determining the severity is extremely important in choosing the best treatment. However, it is simply not possible to know the severity of sleep apnoea just by the symptoms alone, as many people have severe sleep apnoea and are not particularly tired. Other people who have mild sleep apnoea can be very symptomatic with excessive sleepiness and loud snoring.
When do I need to do the sleep study in a hospital?
Most sleep studies are done in the patient’s own home, particularly when assessing snoring and sleep apnoea. However, if more complex problems need to be assessed, such as night terrors, sleepwalking, restless leg syndrome, or insomnia, this might be best done in a hospital setting with live monitoring by sleep experts.
It is a truism in medicine that a definitive diagnosis should always be made first so that the most appropriate and effective treatment can be chosen. A sleep study is an accurate way of identifying the problem and ensuring that the appropriate treatment is selected which results in a successful outcome.
SleepWise Clinic conducts sleep tests as well as provides proven treatment options. Contact us on 1300 101 505 for further information on how we could help!
Dr Harry Ball