You can’t monitor your own sleep—but if your partner complains that you snore, constantly stir, or wander around the house without waking, your doctor may want to send you a for high-tech monitoring session called a sleep study.
The most-common form of this diagnostic procedure is called a polysomnogram because it measures and records various aspects of the way your body reacts in sleep. The test can evaluate you for conditions including insomnia, narcolepsy, tooth grinding, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, sleepwalking, and more.
When sleep isn’t restful
Sleep may look like the simple transition from wakefulness to dreamland, but any number of conditions and problems can disrupt it so it stops offering the “repair” period your body needs to continue functioning at its peak. Beyond the 21st-century problems of too much late-night screen time, and the enduring appeal of caffeinated beverages that can keep you bouncing off a wall instead of curling up under the sheets, serious medical issues can prompt sleep disturbances.
Insomnia takes over when you’re consistently unable to stay asleep for seven to eight hours of rest. Narcolepsy occurs when you’re constantly groggy while you’re awake, and even doze off at unexpected – and inappropriate – times, such as in the midst of driving or operating machinery. Tooth grinding, or bruxism, consists of forceful pressure and movement that can wear down teeth and damage the jaw joint.
Sleep apnea represents a disruption of the normal breathing rhythm, and essentially means that you’re holding your breath when you should be inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Restless legs syndrome produces creepy-crawly sensations, twitching and involuntary movements during sleep, and can continue while you’re awake. Sleepwalkers get out of bed and even raid the fridge or drive miles away with no waking memory of their feet hitting the floor.
Many of these conditions are difficult or even impossible to diagnose definitively without clinical observation of the way you sleep. To figure out what’s going on, your doctor will send you to a sleep lab.
What a sleep study tracks
To take a sleep study, you spend the night in what looks like a hotel room – with a scientific twist. Instead of clutching the TV remote, you’re wired up with a series of electrodes to track factors including your brain activity, eye and limb movements, heart action, muscle tone, oxygen saturation, airflow, and whether you breathe through your nose or your mouth. You’re captured on video and audio as well, to record unusual behavior and talking in your sleep.
The point of all these measurements? Normal sleep consists of multiple 90-minute cycles of activity, as your brain activity slows down, then speeds back up in rapid-eye movement (REM) periods, which coincide when you’re likeliest to dream. Anything that disrupts this sequence interferes with your ability to get some rest while you’re in bed.
Preparing for a sleep study
Before you show up at the lab, limit your caffeine consumption during the day to a single cup of coffee or tea, and skip anything caffeinated after 2 p.m. Avoid alcohol that day as well. Pack your PJs, toothbrush, and anything else you use to get ready for bed. The technologists who’ll monitor your study will want you to nod off as normally as possible, despite the electrodes they’ll attach to your body.
Plan on arriving at the testing lab a few hours before bedtime. If you take nightly medications or typically have a late-night snack, read before bed or listen to music, bring what you need for your normal routine, along with that special pillow that helps you doze off.
After the test
The most-important information that you and your doctor can learn from a sleep study can identify treatable disruptions that rob you of rest. A review of the data collected at the lab points out any abnormal patterns in breathing, movement, oxygen levels, and more. If you’re diagnosed with a specific medical condition as a result of these observations, you may be prescribed anything from medications to a breathing machine, or CPAP, to help you drop off soundly and wake feeling truly refreshed.
Contact the Hancock Sleep Disorder Center
The Sleep Center at Hancock Regional Hospital can diagnose and treat the most common and complex causes for disrupted sleep. We offer comfortable sleep suites and even have diagnostic tools that can be used in the comfort of your own home.
Discover the difference in your day from a good night’s sleep. Call (317) 468-4610 to schedule a sleep health consultation.