Home Sleep Study – What You Need To Know

A sleep study may seem like a daunting medical test with all the wires, computers and people focused on you as you try to sleep.

Maybe that’s why medical science came up with a way for the study to be less ‘stress-inducing’. The home sleep study is a relatively simple test and this article explains all you need to know about the study.

What Is A Sleep Study?

A sleep study, or Polysomnogram, is a medical test carried out on a person to determine what is going on in their body as they sleep. It entails the simultaneous measurement of certain body activities such as breathing patterns, brain waves, movement of limbs, heart rate, eye movements, oxygen levels, and snoring.

Electrodes on head

Everything that is measured is of great significance in a sleep study because the compilation of all the info gotten can give the sleep specialists what they need to come up with a specific diagnosis. The commonest condition that a sleep study confirms is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Some others are

  • Insomnia
  • Narcolepsy
  • Periodic Limb Movement
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Sleep-related seizure disorders
  • Sleepwalking
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism) during sleep

Types Of Sleep Studies

There are a few types of sleep studies offered by various sleep centers, however, in this article, we are going to talk about just two of these. They are the In-lab overnight sleep study and the Home sleep study.

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1. In-Lab Overnight Sleep Study

This is the type of sleep study where all the wires and knobs are attached to the patient to measure everything that goes on during sleep. This is the study that is done to determine if a person has any form of sleep disorder as mentioned above.

scientists doing a study

The other types of sleep study are studies that are done in the lab so they can be grouped under this one. Depending on what diagnosis the sleep specialist is trying to confirm, they can ask for a specific form of in-lab sleep study such as –

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Titration for OSA
  • Split study for severe OSA that requires immediate treatment
  • Bi-level Titration for severe OSA or intolerance to CPAP
  • Expanded EEG sleep recording for seizures during sleep
  • Multiple Sleep Latency Test for Narcolepsy

2. Home Sleep Study

The home sleep study is a very limited study. It is usually used exclusively to diagnose OSA. The parameters measured during the study are limited to oxygen levels, breathing movements and air flow through the nose.

The best part of the home sleep study is that it can be done in the comfort of your own home. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the Home Sleep Study.

What Can I Expect From a Home Sleep Study?

For a home sleep study, expect a fairly comfortable night of sleep in your own bed. First, you have to check in with the sleep clinic. On the day of your sleep study, you go to the sleep clinic where they give you the apparatus you need to conduct the test.

sleep study checklist

They have to show you how to use the machine so you could get accurate results. The devices you get are usually a lot less than what you would normally get for a lab study. This makes it easier for you to operate. The attachments and what they measure are –

Pulse oximeter. This is a clip you attach to your finger to measure your oxygen levels.

Nasal Cannula. This is a small tube that goes into your nostrils to measure the air flowing in and out of your nose as you breathe.

Chest belt. This is a belt you wear around your chest to measure your breathing movements.

These items are connected to a small device that stores all the data generated from these attachments. When you return the home sleep study kit, the sleep technologist accesses these data and analyses it to get you a diagnosis.

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What Are The Benefits Of A Home Sleep Study?

When comparing a home sleep study to an In-Lab study, there are some reasons you need to opt for the home study. Some of these reasons are –

1. You Are In The Comfort Of Your Bed.

Do you find it difficult to sleep in a place you aren’t familiar with? I don’t! But quite a number of people do and it’s perfectly normal. Now, imagine how difficult it may be for a person who has a sleep disorder and is trying to undergo a sleep test to sleep in a strange place with all those wires attached to them!

With the home sleep study, this isn’t a challenge. You have just three things you are connected to and you sleep comfortably in your own home.

comfortable bed

2. There Is Nobody Monitoring You As You Sleep.

During the In-Lab study, a sleep technologist monitors you as you sleep. They may not be physically present in the room with you, however, they are watching. I’m not sure how well people sleep knowing full well that they are being closely observed as they sleep!

In a home sleep study, no-one is monitoring you as you sleep. All the data that needs to be gathered is collected in the device given to you from the sleep clinic and then you turn it in for analysis the next day.

3. It Is A Lot Cheaper Than An In-Lab Study.

The cost of healthcare is already so expensive. Adding the cost of an In-Lab study where all those expensive gadgets are attached to you may not fit into your budget. In addition, there is a sleep technologist dedicated to watching you as you sleep, they are going to get paid to do that!

electroencephalogram (eeg)

A home sleep study is only a fraction of the cost of an In-Lab study making it much more pocket-friendly. Even the insurance companies require that a Home study is done first and if a diagnosis is confirmed, an In-Lab study would be unnecessary.

What Are The Drawbacks Of A Home Sleep Study?

In some instances, the In-Lab study is preferred to the home sleep study. After talking about the pros of the home study, you need to weigh them against the cons when compared to an In-Lab study. Here are some of the cons –

1. It Detects Only Breathing Disorders.

The parameters the home study measures are very limited. In fact, they are so limited that the only problems it would detect are breathing disorders most specifically Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).

If the doctor is trying to confirm a diagnosis that is not OSA, then you may not be eligible for a Home sleep study.

Also, if you have more than one sleep disorder, for example, OSA and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), the home study would not be able to detect the PLMD giving you an incomplete diagnosis and sub-optimal treatment.

obstructive sleep apnea

2. You Have To Know How To Apply The Devices.

On the day of your home sleep study, you are required to pick up the apparatus from the sleep clinic and then they show you how to use the device.

When you get home, you are going to set up the device yourself. It has been made as easy as possible for you to do it yourself, however, if you make a mistake, there is no-one to correct you. You then go to sleep thinking you are getting data for your diagnosis, when in fact you are not. This leads to a delay in diagnosis and repeat testing which costs time and money.

3. It Misses Some Conditions.

The home sleep study is designed specifically to detect OSA, even at that, it misses some milder forms of the sleep disorder.

It is thought that the data obtained while you are asleep is diluted by data obtained while you are awake. This is because all parameters are continually measured once you connect it to yourself, even when you are not asleep.

This leads to an under-diagnosis of severe conditions, or worse, a complete misdiagnosis. In simple terms, the likelihood of the home study detecting OSA is higher when you have a more severe condition. On the plus side, though, if it does detect OSA then you most likely have the sleep disorder and won’t require an In-Lab study.

4. It Can’t Be Used If You Have Some Other Conditions.

Obstructive sleep apnea, especially if severe, is a serious medical condition. When it occurs with other previously existing medical conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Heart Failure, you need an In-Lab study and swift medical attention.

chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

5. There Is No Supervision.

When no one is watching over you as you take the sleep study, it may seem like a benefit until one of the devices disconnects and you don’t wake up to fix it back.

When there is a sleep technologist supervising the study, any disconnections can quickly be remedied allowing for the most accurate data to be collected.

6. Results Take Longer To Come Back.

When a technologist is on hand during the study, the data can be interpreted as the study progresses, meaning that by the end of the study the technologist has everything needed to help the sleep specialist give you a diagnosis.

When you take a home sleep study, the information can only begin to be processed after you take it back to the clinic. It’s after this that the technologist wades through the sea of information that was obtained during the study, assuming you did the test correctly! Then the info is passed to the specialist to come up with a diagnosis.

Obtaining the results for a home sleep study usually takes a few days longer than the In-Lab study. This may not work if you need a faster solution to your condition.

medical test results

Even though the cons of doing a home sleep study are more than the pros, do not entirely rule out doing the home study. With the help of your doctor, weigh each and every pro against the cons. If you simply cannot afford an In-lab study and the doctor says a home study could confirm a diagnosis, then, by all means, do the home sleep study.

So, Should I Get A Home Sleep Study?

As always, this can only be answered by your doctor or sleep specialist. If you are being investigated for a sleep disorder, a home sleep study may or may not be sufficient to confirm your diagnosis. Keep in mind that a lab study detects a lot more sleep disorders in one study.

However, if you have trouble sleeping in strange places and there’s a high likelihood that your condition is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a home sleep study may be the way to go. Just ask your doctor first.

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Oyinkansola Kolawole, MD

Dr. Oyinkan Ogundimu is a graduate of medicine and surgery. She migrated to the United States to pursue her dream of caring for patients, her passion in life is to help people in all the ways she can including breaking down difficult to understand medical facts into simple and fun bits of information.
Oyinkansola Kolawole, MD
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