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What to expect during a sleep study

When you haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in a while, you likely feel rundown, irritable and maybe even depressed. That’s where a sleep study comes in – it can determine if you suffer from a sleep disorder so you can get the treatment you need.

What is a sleep study?

A sleep study is an overnight diagnostic test to determine and record what happens to the body while the participant is asleep. The study is conducted in a sleep lab at a hospital or physician’s office. The sleep study room is much like a hotel room, with a bed, linens, lamp and end table.

“You arrive around 9 o’clock at night, meet with a technician and they hook you up with a whole lot of electrodes on your scalp, chin, chest and legs, and they watch you while you sleep,” says sleep medicine physician Aris Iatridis, M.D.

Most patients are discharged early the next morning.

How can a sleep study help you get a better night’s rest?

A sleep study can detect the following disorders that typically require treatment:

  • Sleep apnea (when an adult frequently stops breathing during sleep)
  • Insomnia
  • Nighttime seizures
  • Problems with the stages of sleep (REM vs. non-REM sleep)
  • Narcolepsy (trouble staying awake)
  • Periodic limb movement disorder (muscle twitching in the legs, feet or arms)
  • Sleepwalking
  • Night terrors

The limitations of home sleep testing

Another type of sleep study is the home sleep test. However, this test can only detect sleep apnea and does not have brainwave monitors. In a laboratory setting, a sleep technician can monitor brainwaves to determine the stage of sleep and when the participant is awake or asleep.   

Tracking eye movement

 A sleep study will also track the participant’s eye movement, which can indicate stage REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

“It’s the deepest stage of sleep where you have the most vivid dreams, but it’s also the stage where basically the whole body is paralyzed,” he says. “The only muscles that work during REM sleep are the heart, the muscles that pull air in and out of the lungs, and the eyes.”

It is important to know when the participant goes into REM sleep because many people will only have sleep apnea in that particular stage because that’s when the muscles in the airway are most flaccid.

How are sleep study results determined?

“After the study is complete, we look at the distribution of the stages of sleep and examine the results for sleep abnormalities,” says Dr. Iatridis.

A few weeks after the study, the patient will have a follow-up appointment with his or her physician to discuss the study’s findings and determine appropriate treatment options.

“Sleep studies help us get to the root of the problem, rather than just treating the symptom with a sleeping pill, for example,” says Dr. Iatridis.  “With our findings, we can prescribe the safest, most effective treatment for a person’s individual needs.”

Why undergo a sleep study?

“The most important reason to undergo a sleep study is because if you have a sleep disorder, it affects your life,” says Dr. Iatridis. “It leaves you feeling tired, rundown and sleepy all the time, more prone to depression and mood swings, and you don’t enjoy life as much as you should.”

Sleep apnea, when left untreated, can lead to a much higher risk of:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart rhythms

“It can leave you debilitated later in life and your quality of life goes down.”

Click here to hear Star 94 hosts Cindy and Jimmy share their experience undergoing a sleep study at Piedmont.

To learn more about sleep medicine, visit Piedmont Sleep Services

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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