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What is a Sleep Study?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A sleep study is a period of scientific observation which is designed to provide insight into sleeping patterns. Someone with a suspected sleep disorder may be asked to take part in a sleep study to diagnose the condition and make a start at treatment, and sleep studies are also used more generally to learn about how people sleep, and how changes in sleep patterns affect mental and physical health. Often, a sleep study takes place in a sleep lab, a facility which has been built specifically for sleep studies.

In a general sleep study, a variety of tests may be performed on subjects. Subjects may wear special equipment to bed, for example, to monitor things like brain and heart activity, and they may be asked to keep journals about their experiences in the study. Specific sleep studies may focus on things like how interruptions influence mental health, what happens when sleeping patterns are radically changed, or the stages of sleep.

Participants in a sleep study are often paid for their time and to compensate them for any inconvenience, and on some college campuses, sleep studies are famously used be students to earn some quick cash. The duration of a general sleep study varies, with some studies only taking a night, while others may last for weeks, months, or years. For people who want to participate in sleep studies, it is a good idea to find out about how much commitment is involved.

When a sleep study is used for a specific individual, it is generally ordered by a physician who is concerned about a patient's sleeping patterns, or the potential for disorders like sleep apnea. Depending on the reason for the study, the patient may undergo a variety of tests to establish things like baseline levels of chemicals in the blood, or what kind of brain activity happens while the patient sleeps. At the end of the sleep study, a report will be written with all of the patient's data, and recommended next steps.

Sleep studies can provide a great deal of insight into personal health, as well as general human health. Many people experience sleep disorders and are unaware of it, especially people who live alone, and a sleep study can explain a variety of mysterious and sometimes troubling symptoms. Being diagnosed with something like sleep apnea, for example, can change someone's life, and potentially save a life as well, as sleep apnea is quite dangerous. Participation in general sleep studies also helps to advance scientific knowledge about the mysteries of sleep.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By whiteplane — On Jul 30, 2012

My son did a pediatric sleep study last year. He has an unusual condition where he has difficulty entering REM sleep. We contacted a doctor who was recommended to us by our pediatrician and he told us about the study. It lasted a few weeks and there were physicals and overnight stays.

By nextcorrea — On Jul 30, 2012

I have heard that you can make some pretty good money by participating in sleep studies. Has anyone ever done one before? How much did you make and what was involved?

I have participated in medical research studies before and they have always been a good experience. There has never been any side effects or negative consequences and they pay really well. It is something I am interested in doing more of and I know that there are a ton of sleep studies out there.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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