All About Sleep Studies
Why do I need a sleep study?
Sleep is not a simple process. It is an active state essential for physical and mental restoration. Some 84 disorders of sleeping and waking harm personal health and quality of life and endanger public safety by contributing to traffic and industrial accidents. These disorders include problems falling or staying asleep, problems staying awake or adhering to a consistent sleep/wake schedule, sleepwalking, bed-wetting, nightmares and other problems that interfere with sleep. Some sleep disorders are potentially fatal.
What is a sleep study?
A sleep study, or polysomnogram, is a recording that contains several types of measurements used to identify different sleep stages and classify various sleep problems. This study will probably be a new experience and we urge you to learn more about it before you arrive at the sleep clinic. Many parts of the brain control sleep and influence its different stages. These levels or stages of sleep include drowsiness, light sleep, deep sleep, and dream sleep. We can tell which state of sleep a person is in by measuring different activities of the brain and body. These activities include brain waves, eye movements, muscle tone, heart rate and respiration.
The above mentioned activities that occur during sleep are monitored by applying small metal discs called electrodes to the head and skin. These electrodes are attached with an adhesive hypoallergenic tape and a small amount of paste. Flexible elastic belts are placed around your chest and abdomen to measure your breathing. The level of oxygen in your blood and your heart rate are monitored by a clip that fits on your index finger. None of these devices hurt and all are designed to be as comfortable as possible. The sleep study and its analysis and interpretation involve a complex process. Many hours of work are required by specially trained people, including sleep technologists who process or score large amounts of data from the night. The information is then interpreted by a sleep specialist with special knowledge and training in sleep and its disorders. A typical sleep study involves more than 800 pages of different types of data (e.g. brain waves, muscle movements, and eye movements). Due to this time-consuming and labour-intensive process, sleep studies are usually not evaluated immediately and it may take some time to receive the results of your study. Treatment recommendations will be made if evidence of a sleep disorder is found.
How will I be able to sleep in such a different environment with all those electrodes on me?
This is the question most frequently asked by patients prior to their sleep studies. Many people think the sleep center will be cold, bright, technical, and impersonal-looking. At our sleep clinic, however, an attempt has been made to make the surroundings, particularly the bedroom, very homey and comfortable, something like a hotel room. The technical equipment and technologist will be in a room separate from your sleeping room, and the electrode wires are gathered together in a kind of ponytail behind your head so that you will be able to roll over and change position almost as easily as you would at home. The day of your sleep study, avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate) after 2pm and try not to nap. Before coming to the sleep center, wash and dry your hair and do not apply hair sprays, oils, or gels. You may feel strange at first with the electrodes on your skin; however, most people do not find them uncomfortable or an obstacle to falling asleep. The sleep specialist recognizes that you may not sleep in the center exactly as you do at home, but in most cases this does not cause a problem in obtaining the necessary information from your study. Before coming to the center you should pack an overnight bag with anything you will need, as you would for an overnight stay at a hotel or a friend’s house.
What will happen when I arrive at the Sleep Clinic?
When you arrive at the clinic the sleep technologist will greet you and show you to your bedroom. The technologist will then show you the equipment and answer any questions you may have about it and the electrode application. You will also be asked to fill out a couple of forms that are important part of your assessment. You should inform the technologist of any changes in your sleep or specific difficulties that you might not have already discussed with your doctor. You will have time to change and get ready for bed as you do at home. There may be a waiting period before the technologist applies your electrodes and you should feel free to read or relax. If you have a commitment in the morning (if, for example you have to be at work at a certain time), be sure to inform the sleep technologist prior to your study, so that a wake-up time can be arranged. If you need to get up during the night to use the washroom etc. you can do that, the technologist will assist you in getting out of bed. While you are sleeping, various important body functions and measurements are recorded. The technologist will monitor your sleep from a nearby room throughout the night.
Should I take my medication as I usually do?
Yes, you may. It is important for your sleep professional to know if you are taking any regularly prescribed or over-the-counter medications since certain medications can affect your sleep study. Sometimes specific medications are gradually discontinued during the weeks prior to the sleep study in order for the results of your study to be interpreted correctly. It is important that you discuss your medication use with your doctor before your sleep study. Do not discontinue any prescription medication without first talking with your doctor. You should avoid coffee and alcohol on the day/evening of your study.
What happens after my sleep study?
After you have completed your sleep study, you will have a follow-up visit with the sleep specialist to discuss the results and recommendations for treatment. Be sure to inquire at your doctor’s office about scheduling a follow-up visit. Some doctors’ offices prefer that you wait until the sleep study results have been received. We hope that your experience at the Sleep Clinic will be positive and helpful. By informing you of the specifics involved in evaluating sleep and its disorders we hope that you will understand more about sleep and take an active role in your own care.