Sleep studies normally consist of coming into a lab and have physicians and other sleep professionals watch you sleep for the night. They take various measurements to identify any potentially sleep disorders. When you wake up in the morning, they normally have a lot of data to go through to determine what it is that may be causing you trouble getting to sleep.
Well in the wake of the pandemic, sleeping in a health facility is becoming increasingly less available. That is why at-home sleep tests may be the best option for you, and it's important that you are aware of what your options are. Continue reading to find out more about sleep tests you can perform at home.
Why is an at-home sleep test needed?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which the muscles in the back of your throat relax while sleeping, causing an inability to breathe. Your body wakes up to begin breathing again, all the while interrupting your sleep and decreasing your oxygen levels in your body. These events, known as apnea events, can result in excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, trouble focusing, and snoring throughout the night.
Most likely, you will not remember waking up at night, so diagnosing OSA can be extremely challenging, unless you have a partner that can attest to the many times you stop breathing throughout the night. Therefore, if you're experiencing extreme fatigue, but unsure why, then it may be a good idea to consider an at-home sleep test.
What is an At-Home Sleep Test?
A home sleep apnea test is an overnight test that is conducted outside of a hospital or sleep lab. It can accurately diagnose OSA in some, but not all people. They cost les and are more convenient than in-lab studies.
When undergoing a home sleep apnea test, you have to pick up special equipment from the doctor's office or sleep clinic, then carefully follow the instruction on how to use it. You sleep like you normally would, but connected to specific devices that will measure your sleep habits for at least one night.
When the test is complete,the equipment must be returned, although some of the newer ones are disposable. A sleep scientist will analyze the data to see if you meet the criteria for OSA.
Home sleep test devices
Sleep tests are categorized according to how much and what time of data they collect. Type 1 and 2 tests collect more detailed data. In-lab polysomnography tests are type 3 and 4 test which collect less data. The number of devices used in your home sleep apnea test depends on if your medical provider orders a type 3 or 4 study.
Some of the test devices that may be included in your sleep apnea tests are:
- Breathing sensor - Nasal cannula or nasal prongs are tubes that are placed in the nostrils and wrapped behind the ears. They analyze breathing patterns by tracking the air pressure when inhaling and exhaling.
- Effort belt - A belt may be wrapped around the chest or abdomen in order to measure movements associated with breathing. This devices helps to differentiate between OSA, where the person is making an effort to breathe, and central sleep apnea, where the brain doesn't send the signal for breathing, meaning there is no movement.
- Pulse oximeter - Pulse oximeters are devices placed over the fingertip to measure how much oxygen is in the blood. Sometimes a pulse oximeter is attached to another part of the body, like the earlobe.
- Microphone - The breathing sensor normally eliminates snoring, but sometimes, an actual microphone is used to measure snoring. A sound sensor attached to the neck may also record pressure and sound.
- Data Collection device - All of the sensors usually connect to data collection devices, either via wires or flexible tubes. The device may feature buttons you are instructed to push when you want data collection to begin and end. These devices also will include light sensors to indicate whether recording is taking place or not.
Home sleep test metrics
The types of measurements collected by a home sleep apnea test depend on the test type. Type 3 home sleep apnea tests measure two breathing-related measures like airflow and breathing effort, blood oxygen level, and one heart related measure like heart rate. Type 4 tests collect on or two measures including airflow, blood oxygen level and heart rate.
Other measurements may be collected, like snoring frequency or volume and body movements.
How a home sleep study works
Home sleep apnea tests can vary depending on who orders or administers it. the process generally involves meeting with a medical professional, receiving the equipment and carrying out the test at home, and then meeting again with your doctor to discuss the results.
If you are experiencing symptoms of OSA, then make an appointment with your doctor. Make sure to bring with you a sleep diary that contains a record of your sleeping habits. If your doctor thinks you could have sleep apnea, they will refer you to a sleep specialist of sleep clinic.
Meet with your sleep specialist. They ask more detailed questions before determining next steps. You may ask them questions about home sleep apnea testing and how it compares to polysomnography in terms of cost, insurance coverage, convenience and accuracy. If they think a home test is right for you, then they will order one.
Obtain your equipment and carry out the test. Someone will call you or your specialist will tell you who to contact to get the necessary equipment for your test. When they give you the equipment, staff will walk you through how to use each device. Attach all the devices, as instructed, and try to go to sleep and wake up at your normal times. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and continue to take your sleep medications.
When The test is over, return your equipment. At the clinic, they will download and analyze the collected data. Once the data is analyzed, your doctor or sleep specialist will discuss the results with you and decide on the next steps from there.
Deciding if an at-home test is right for you
At home sleep studies are far less invasive and more comfortable than in-lab tests. The main difference lies in what the tests measure. Both measure basic vital signs like airflow, blood oxygen levels and heart rate, but only in-lab studies measure sleep by monitoring brain activity.
At-home tests are more cost effective and allows you to sleep in the comfort of your own home. However, since in-lab studies gather more data, then it is more sensitive for accurately diagnosing OSA, among other sleep disorders.
Talk with your doctor to see which is the right move for you. You can even begin by clicking the orange button below to take a free online sleep test and speak with one of our sleep professionals who can help lead you in the right direction.