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Sleep Studies & Testing

Understanding The Study of Sleep

What Are Sleep Studies?

Sleep studies allow doctors to measure how much and how well you sleep. They also help show whether you have sleep problems and how severe they are.

Sleep studies are important because untreated sleep disorders can increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and other medical conditions. People usually aren’t aware of their breathing and movements while sleeping. They may never think to talk to their doctors about sleep- and health-related issues that may be linked to sleep problems.

Doctors can diagnose and treat sleep disorders. Talk to your doctor if you feel tired or very sleepy while at work or school most days of the week. You also may want to talk to your doctor if you often have trouble falling or staying asleep, or if you wake up too early and aren’t able to get back to sleep. These are common signs of a sleep disorder.

Doctors can diagnose some sleep disorders by asking questions about your sleep schedule and habits and by getting information from sleep partners or parents. To diagnose other sleep disorders, doctors also use the results from sleep studies and other medical tests.

Sleep studies can help doctors diagnose:

  • Sleep-related breathing disorders (such as sleep apnea)
  • Sleep-related seizure disorders
  • Parasomnias (such as sleepwalking)
  • Narcolepsy
  • Insomnia
  • Circadian rhythm disorders.

Who Needs a Sleep Study?

If you often feel very tired during the day – even though you spent enough time in bed to be well rested – talk to your doctor. This is a common sign of a sleep disorder. A number of sleep disorders can disrupt your sleep, leaving you sleepy during the day.

Other common signs of sleep disorders include the following.

  • It takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night.
  • You awaken often during the night and then have trouble falling back to sleep, or you awaken too early in the morning.
  • You feel sleepy during the day and fall asleep within 5 minutes if you have an opportunity to nap, or you fall asleep at inappropriate times during the day.
  • Your bed partner claims you snore loudly, snort, gasp, or make choking sounds while you sleep, or your partner notices your breathing stops for short periods.
  • You have creeping, tingling, or crawling feelings in your legs that are relieved by moving or massaging them, especially in the evening and when you try to fall asleep.
  • You have vivid, dreamlike experiences while falling asleep or dozing.
  • You have episodes of sudden muscle weakness when you’re angry, fearful, or when you laugh.
  • You feel as though you can’t move when you first wake up.
  • Your bed partner notes that your legs or arms jerk often during sleep.
  • You regularly feel the need to use stimulants to stay awake during the day.

Describe your signs and symptoms to your doctor. It’s important to note how tired you feel and whether your signs and symptoms affect your daily routine. Early signs of sleep disorders aren’t easy to detect during routine visits. There are no blood tests for sleep disorders, and the doctor isn’t watching you sleep.

If you’ve had a sleep disorder for a long time, it may be hard for you to notice its impact on your daily routine. Using a sleep diary may be helpful.

Your doctor can decide whether you need a sleep study. A sleep study allows your doctor to observe sleep patterns and to diagnose a sleep disorder, which can then be treated.

Certain medical conditions have been linked to sleep disorders. These include heart failure, coronary artery disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA, or “mini-stroke”). If you have one of these conditions, talk with your doctor about whether it would be helpful to have a sleep study.

Content Created/Medically Reviewed by our Expert Doctors
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