Sleep studies help researchers learn more about the myriad problems related to disrupted sleep. If you have sleep-related problems, participating in an overnight study can help you get an accurate diagnosis that can lead to the most effective treatment and prevent further health problems. A sleep study is a time commitment that may not be convenient, but for everyone involved, it is usually a win-win situation.

Why Participate?

According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep studies that lead to appropriate treatment help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and other medical conditions associated with severe sleep disorders. You may not even be aware that you have a sleep disorder that is threatening your long-term health. The results of sleep studies help doctors diagnose and treat sleep-related seizure disorders and sleep apnea and other sleep-related breathing disorders. Sleep studies are also used to diagnose narcolepsy, a disorder that results in troubled nighttime sleep and excessive daytime drowsiness.

What to Expect

There are several types of sleep studies, including daytime sleep studies and nighttime sleep studies. Some studies are performed overnight at sleep study centers, some are home-based overnight studies, and others are performed at sleep study centers for specific periods of time throughout the day.

There is never any pain involved in a sleep study and if you participate in a study performed at a sleep center, you will be given a room that is much like a normal bedroom at home or in a hotel.

A common sleep study procedure used to diagnose and treat sleep apnea is called a polysomnogram (PSG). During a PSG, electrodes, or sensors, will be attached to various parts of your body to record brain activity, eye movements, heart rate, blood pressure and other data while you sleep. Sensors embedded in elastic belts strapped across your chest and waist monitor your breathing. This information is transmitted to a computer in another room, where it is monitored and documented by a nurse or technician.

A similar test known as a Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) is performed during the day to help diagnose conditions such as narcolepsy and idiopathic hypersomnia, or excessive sleepiness that occurs for no apparent reason. An MSLT is performed while you are awake, to see if and when you fall asleep during the test, and which stages of sleep you experience when you do.

Sleep studies that are performed in your own home use portable monitoring devices that measure sleep behavior over a period of time to help familiarize your doctor with your sleep habits and any abnormalities.

The Results

The results of a sleep study give your doctor information such as when you fall asleep and what time you wake up, how often you wake up, the duration of your sleep stages and any disruptions in breathing or movement you experience during sleep. Your doctor will combine the results of your sleep study and your personal medical history and sleep history to come up with a diagnosis and treatment options. As this takes time, you may have to wait a week or two to get the final result and treatment plan from your doctor.