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What Happens at a Sleep Apnea Clinic?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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A sleep apnea clinic is a facility where patients who are suspected of having the condition spend the night and be monitored for breathing activity during sleep. This is usually accomplished in just one night, although occasionally two or three may be required if results are inconclusive. Technicians and doctors may use electrodes, cameras, and other machines to help determine if a person has sleep apnea, how severe it is, and what treatments may be most appropriate.

The first thing most patients undergo at any sleep apnea clinic is a discussion with a technician or doctor about their symptoms. Sleep apnea refers to the cessation of breathing for brief intervals during the night, and can cause a range of side effects such as chronic fatigue, lack of feeling rested even with adequate sleep, waking up and choking or gasping for air during the night, and loud snoring that is generally noticed by a partner. Spouses or sleeping partners may also notice the person stop breathing for several seconds, followed by a dramatic gasp or period of rapid breathing.

Patients will be required to sleep at the sleep apnea clinic. They are generally connected to electrodes that are systematically placed on their heads, chests, arms, and sometimes, legs or feet. These are used to monitor the stage of sleep the person is in at any given time, breathing rates, blood oxygen levels, and heart rhythms. This will give doctors a clear view of if, and how often, a patient ceases to breathe during sleep and how the body responds. Often, the patient will awaken for a few seconds to take a deep breath to regain normal breathing, and then go back to sleep. Many people do not even remember waking up.

Once sleep patterns have been recorded and evaluated, the doctors at the sleep apnea clinic will go over the results with the patient and discuss any findings. If sleep apnea is suspected, treatment options may be explained as well as potential causes and risk factors. Patients who are overweight are at a much higher risk, so weight loss may be suggested. Other causes may be narrow airway passages or sleeping in the wrong positions, although some cases of sleep apnea cannot be explained.

Sometimes, a sleep apnea clinic may require a patient to stay for another night to test certain breathing or oxygen machines to record their effectiveness. This will help determine the best course of treatment. Other times, patients are able to try treatments at home and may be asked to return to their normal physician to discuss whether or not symptoms have subsided, remain unchanged, or become worse.

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