Common Testing Methods for Sleeping Disorders

If you suffer from a sleep disorder, you know how easy it is to wake up feeling out of it. The grogginess, inability to concentrate, frequent yawning, and even aches or nausea can follow you throughout the day. It can make things like driving or working seem impossible. Luckily, several different testing options are available to identify what may be bothering you most in your sleep and help correctly identify resolutions.

When do I need a sleep study?

If you find yourself having a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or feeling exhausted throughout your day, it may be time to get a sleep study completed. There are a lot of contributing factors to an inability to sleep. Other health concerns, like hormone imbalances or medication side effects, are things to consider. However, if the issue is a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, a sleep study will be the most beneficial test you can complete.

Types of sleep studies

If you feel like the low quality of sleep impacts your life, it should be addressed immediately with your physician. They will likely order a sleep study for you. Not to fret, these are painless, although some may seem a bit uncomfortable. Some people find them to be stressful. However, it’s important to act like it’s your typical night. There are many different sleep study tests available; here, we will discuss seven methods used by practitioners.

1- Polysomnogram

This is also referred to as a ‘PSG’ test. This test is completed at a hospital, sleep center, or other inpatient location. It specifically looks at your sleeping patterns and stages to view where you may be having the most difficulty. Since our brain moves in and out of different stages as we fall asleep and wake up, it’s critical to catch where your body is struggling most. During this test, you will be connected to equipment that looks at your breathing, muscle movements, and brain activity. This can help identify sleep apnea, REM disorders, narcolepsy, circadian sleep-wake disorders, and limb disorders like restless leg syndrome.

2- Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT)

This test is more relevant to those who experience more trouble during the day, such as exhaustion and constant sleepiness. It is a full-day test that uses scheduled naps to see how long it takes for you to fall asleep. Sensors are placed around the face and chin to look at the stages of sleep and monitor when you are awake or asleep. If you have difficulty driving or staying awake at work, your doctor may recommend this type of test.

3- CPAP Titration

When completing this type of procedure, your doctor will be looking for breathing problems that may be blocking your normal sleep pattern. Examples are sleep apneas or hypoventilation. A blockage in the airway causes obstructive sleep apnea, usually resulting in snoring or needing air in the middle of sleep. Central sleep apnea is when the airway is not blocked, but the body is not sending the appropriate signals for you to breathe normally. This is completed in a laboratory—the CPAP device changing the pressure to what you need to sleep without pauses. The CPAP is placed over your nose and part of your face but is usually not uncomfortable. It collects data on your oxygen levels, breathing, heart rate, brain waves, and movements.

4- Split Night Study

This study is more commonly done for those with suspected obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) when the airways are blocked during sleep. A split night sleep study is set up into two different parts. The beginning of the night will consist of a PSG test, with a CPAP titration following later on in the night. While it may seem like a lot in one night, it is usually more convenient for those who don’t want to have multiple sleep studies on different days.

5- Maintenance of Wakefulness Test (MWT)

During the MWT, you will be assessed for how long you can stay awake during certain intervals without stimulation. This means there is a lack of things to do like reading, playing on your phone, singing, etc., while sitting up. This is completed at a sleep clinic over one day and is used to assess how alert and oriented you are. The environment is often relaxing, meant to be calm. You will be prompted to have no stimulation during certain times, but outside of those instances, you can resume normal activity.

6- Overnight Oximetry

This test is done in the comfort of your own home. It is a pretty simple process, with a device being worn on your finger or ear that looks at heart rate and oxygen levels. Oxygen is typically connected to sleep since our bodies will wake us up or ‘alert’ us when there is a lack of air. Interestingly enough, this sensor can see changes in blood colors that will notify the practitioner of any loss or lack of oxygen.

7- Actigraphy

Actigraphy uses a device worn at home, often in the form of a quarter-sized watch. Think of it as a clinical Fit-Bit tracker. This is worn for up to months if needed. It looks at any disruptions or breaks in sleep cycles or stages. It is used to assess any irregularities in sleep, movement, or heart rate to identify the type of sleep disorders or disturbances that may be occurring.

Why sleep studies are important

Many different sleep disorders can be affecting your quality of life. It can affect your work, your relationships, and even your health. A lack of proper sleep can even cause safety issues, like car accidents or dangers at work. Identifying the reason for your sleep disruption means you can get accurate and effective treatment for long-term benefits. Discuss any issues with sleep or exhaustion with your physician to get started feeling well-rested, energetic, and back to normal.