What is a Sleep Apnea Study?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 January 2019
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A sleep apnea study is a test that helps to determine whether a person has sleep apnea. This is a condition that may be caused by several different factors and that results in brief periods of breathing cessation during sleep. It can be mild or very dangerous especially to children and infants. In all cases it interrupts natural sleep patterns, which may affect health in numerous ways. Should sleep apnea be suspected, doctors may ask patients to undergo a study to confirm diagnosis.

Typically, what is meant by sleep apnea study is polysomnography or a polysomnogram. This is a test done overnight at a sleep clinic (which may be a single facility or part of a hospital), or that is sometimes performed at home. The person who participates in this test is monitored while sleeping to look for sleep disorders, usually by at least one observer or technician and also through a variety of medical equipment. The study isn’t uncomfortable, except for the fact that many people will have electrodes placed on the face and on various parts of the body; these have adhesive backing and occasionally irritate sensitive skin.


The principal areas evaluated in a sleep apnea study include respiration, or simply, breathing. One device specifically looks at airflow by measuring temperature change at the mouth. It is sensitive enough to detect when a person is not breathing. Other things measured include brain activity, which can detect the stage of sleep, and muscle tone, which also helps to confirm sleep stage. Eye movement detection is another useful measurement for analyzing overall quality of sleep and sleep stage.

There may be a few other measurements taken depending on the person’s individual circumstances. A sleep apnea study may look for things like evidence of restless legs syndrome, for instance. It also often measures oxygen level with what is called a saturation or sat monitor, or more properly a pulse oximeter. A small clip or bandage-like wrap is worn on the finger and can detect decline in oxygen levels. Sometimes oximetry is a first test to detect sleep apnea, and a portable machine might be used at home to see if blood oxygen level is decreasing at night or oximetry may be combined with a few other testing elements to look for sleep apnea at home. In some cases, people do have a sleep apnea study performed at home, but this is less common, and testing at a sleep center may be preferred.

Many sleep technicians and sleep centers observe that patients can be most worried about how they’re going to sleep through all the monitoring, and through the experience of being watched or studied. Some people don’t sleep well, but actually many people do, even if they’re worried about the issue. It’s important to follow all guidelines a sleep clinic gives for the day and hours prior to having a sleep apnea study. These will help increase chances of having a restful night.



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