About Sleep Testing

Your Sleep Study

What To Know

Your doctor has recommended you undergo overnight sleep study testing to assess snoring or daytime sleepiness for a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, but what should you expect? Polysomnograms are typically done in specialized sleep testing centers. Though you may have some anxiety about the experience, take a few moments, read on and lay those fears to rest. Discover the purpose of sleep testing, how to prepare before the visit, what to expect when you arrive, what happens if you can’t sleep, and how soon you will receive the interpretation of the results.

What Is the Purpose of Sleep Testing?

Sleep studies, or polysomnograms, are tests to diagnose sleep disorders like sleep apnea, periodic limb movements of sleep, parasomnias (sleep behaviors), and narcolepsy. They generally involve spending the night sleeping at a sleep laboratory or sleep center. Typically, these studies will be ordered after you have seen a healthcare provider at a clinic visit and have discussed your sleep problems. These tests are the best means in understanding how you sleep.

Before Your Sleep Study Visit

Prior to arriving for your sleep study, there are some important preparations that should be made. Our sleep laboratories have patients arrive in the early evening hours. If you work nights, our facilities are able to accommodate studies done during the day. It may be important to avoid caffeine and naps the day of your study, as these may interfere with your ability to sleep.

Alcohol intake should not exceed your usual habits.

Restrictions on What to Bring to the Sleep Center

Our patients are encouraged to bring comfortable sleepwear, their own pillows or favorite blankets and other “comfort items” that may help you sleep (such as your childhood teddy bear).

Bring the same items you would usually bring to a stay overnight at a hotel, including any necessary medications or toiletries. Unfortunately, pets and bed partners will not be accommodated. If there is something you can’t sleep without, it may not hurt to ask ahead of time.

What to Expect at the DOCS Sleep Center

Our sleep centers are equipped with Queen size beds, flat screen televisions with cable television, full-size private bathrooms – including a large shower. We also have a kitchen stocked with snacks and beverages.

Getting Set Up for the Overnight Sleep Study

After arriving at the Sleep Center and making yourself comfortable, our sleep technician will ask you to change into your sleepwear. Everyone will be more comfortable if you wear something to bed, but if you don’t routinely wear pajamas, a loose-fitting T-shirt and shorts will do nicely. The technician will then spend about 45 to 60 minutes setting you up for your sleep study.

This time can vary, depending on their efficiency and the complexity of your individual set-up. Some studies for seizures may take as long as 90 minutes to two hours to set up.

Our technician will measure the dimensions of your head and mark landmarks on your scalp with a marking pencil. The marks are not permanent and will wash off with soap and water. At designated places, a small cotton-tipped applicator, such as a Q-tip, will be used to clean a small patch of your skin. The cleaning paste is a little abrasive, but it is important to clean off the oils of your skin to optimize the contact for the electrode.

​Then wires with gold-cupped electrodes will be put in to place for the EEG. Paste will be applied to each electrode. It serves to keep the wires in place as well as to better conduct the electrical waves of your brain. This paste is often sticky, similar to shortening used in cooking, but will also wash off with hot water with a little persistence. Some of the wires on the face will be taped in place. There are no needles in modern sleep electrodes, and this preparation should not hurt.

In addition to the electrodes on your face and scalp, there are a few other items that shall be applied. The exact set-up may vary from one sleep center to another, but these are standard to most:

  • A flat, plastic snore microphone taped to your neck
  • Sticky pads on your chest to monitor your heart rhythm via an EKG
  • Stretchy cloth belts that go across the chest and stomach to measure breathing
  • Sticky pads or electrodes applied to your shins or forearms to monitor movements (an EMG)

What to Do Before You Sleep

After getting set up, some patients worry about what they will be doing before they sleep. It is important to not fall asleep before starting the study, you may bring reading materials or other things to work on or watch tv on the one in your private room.

When the Night Begins

When you have reached your bedtime, or you feel drowsy enough to fall asleep, it will be important to let your technician know. They will help you into bed and connect the wire box to a computer that will allow the tech to monitor you from another room. There will likely be a small infrared camera and two-way speaker in the bedroom. If you need to get up during the night, this is how you will call for assistance.

Just prior to going to sleep, the technician will need to test the equipment. As part of this testing, you will open and close your eyes, move them around, snore, take breaths in and out, and even move your arms and legs. If something goes wrong with a wire, or if one comes loose during the night, your technician will come in to fix it.

Will I Sleep in a Sleep Test—and What If I Can't?

The biggest concern most people have is whether they will be able to sleep. Surprisingly, most individuals are able to sleep, even with all the wires, the strange environment, and any number of things that could be disruptive. It is exceptionally rare to have someone not be able to sleep at all.

If you are concerned that you may not be able to fall asleep, some healthcare providers prescribe a sleeping medication or sleeping pill to be used the night of the study. There are some that will not change the results of your sleep study. Make certain that all medications are approved by your doctor before using them the night of the study.

In the worst-case scenario, the testing can be repeated as necessary to ensure adequate sleep observation is obtained and the results are valid. Don’t feel stressed thought: the vast majority of people are successful during their first attempt at a study.

The Morning After the Sleep Study

Most people get up at a regular time, and if you let your sleep technician know this before going to bed, they will be happy to wake you. The wires and other measurement devices will be removed with surprising speed, perhaps in as little as 5 to 10 minutes. There will be a questionnaire about your night’s sleep to complete.

You may shower, and get ready for your day before leaving.

You will likely not be given any information about your study until a sleep doctor has had a chance to review the results, which could be a few weeks. Most patients will meet with the doctor in clinic to discuss the interpretation of the study’s findings and to review possible treatments if a sleep disorder is identified.

If you have further questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us.