woman sleeping machine

What to Expect During a Sleep Apnea Study

Have you been told you snore too loud? Do you wake up a lot in the night or wake up in the morning feeling as though you haven’t slept at all?

It’s easy to pass off sleepiness or snoring as a minor nuisance, but these can be signs of a more serious condition. If your significant other or roommates complain about your snoring, you may want to talk to your doctor about a sleep apnea study.

Most people are unaware that they even have sleep apnea, which is why it’s important to take those nighttime complaints seriously. As many as 1 in every 15 Americans has sleep apnea.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder caused by the muscles of your tongue and throat relaxing during sleep and blocking off your airways. This disrupts your breathing and your normal sleep cycle. Sleep apnea can cause serious health consequences, such as increasing your risk for:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke

How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

After reviewing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will recommend an overnight sleep study. The sleep apnea test will allow your doctor to diagnose and find possible causes for the disorder.

What Happens During a Sleep Apnea Study?

Basically, a sleep medicine specialist will monitor your actions while you sleep. That might seem a little awkward at first, but sleep labs are set up with private rooms that have a bathroom and shower. It’s like spending the night in a hotel.

Before coming to the sleep lab, you’ll be asked to avoid alcohol, narcotics, and caffeine so that they don’t interfere with your normal sleep habits.

A sleep medicine specialist will attach sensors to your chest, stomach, face, head, and legs. These sensors are painless and monitor:

  • Air flow from your nose and mouth
  • Body movements
  • Heart rate
  • Eye movements
  • Blood oxygen levels

The study usually lasts from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m.

What Happens After Your Sleep Study?

Most sleep studies take two nights — one to diagnose the problem and one to test an appropriate therapy. The second study usually involves testing a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to see if that helps your breathing overnight.

Learning about your sleep apnea and getting treatment right away is best to avoid long-term health problems.

For more information on sleep apnea treatment options, visit the Division of Sleep Surgery at UPMC.