Testing for Sleep Disorders

from The American Lung Association

What to Expect

If you suspect that you might have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your sleep and health habits. He or she will also physically examine you to look for risk factors, including anything that might make your upper airway smaller. Because OSA runs in families, they may ask questions about your family history of sleep problems. The doctor will carefully review all of the medication you take to see how they might affect your sleep. You'll also be asked questions about your symptoms, as well as your sleep habits. Asking about how much sleep you get, how long it takes to fall asleep and whether you sleep walk or talk will help the doctor spot any other sleep problems you might have. If your healthcare provider thinks that you may have OSA, they may send you for a diagnostic test.

How OSA Is Diagnosed

Your OSA can be diagnosed either by visiting a laboratory for a sleep test (polysomnogram [PSG]) or by using a portable sleep apnea test at home (at-home sleep study). The most commonly done test is the PSG, which requires you to stay overnight at a sleep laboratory. During this test, you are hooked up to equipment that monitors your heart, lung, and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and oxygen levels while you sleep. If you stop breathing during sleep, you may be diagnosed with OSA. This test can determine how serious your OSA is based on how many times you stop breathing per hour of sleep.

If you do an at-home sleep study, someone will teach you how to put on the device before you sleep. These tests typically collect less information than a laboratory sleep test and only monitor if you stop breathing. The at-home test also might miss mild cases of OSA. If you have many risk factors and symptoms of OSA and the at-home test doesn't pick up your OSA, your doctor may still want you to be tested in a sleep laboratory.