What You Can Expect When You do a Sleep Study
Good sleep is something that many of us take for granted, especially when we’re young. We think that catching a few zzzs will never be an issue. We don’t appreciate it when we have it.
There’s the mistaken belief that every night will provide a high-quality slumber — the kind where you fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow and go through the stages of sleep without effort or interruption. Sleep that’s satisfying and leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to conquer the world. Unfortunately, that kind of sleep isn’t always possible.
Many sleep disorders can affect the quality of your sleep, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, sleep paralysis, and RLS, aka Restless Leg Syndrome. If you have trouble sleeping, it’s highly likely that you’ll have to participate in a sleep study or Polysomnography.
You won’t have to hit the books for this study, but you may pull an all-nighter anyway.
Is a sleep study super fun? No. Will you want to postpone or not do it at all? Probably, but it’s in your best interest to suck it up, schedule it, and spend the night doing a sleep study.
However, it’s a lot easier to do a sleep study when you know what to expect.
I have participated in four overnight sleep studies. I’m going to focus on what it’s like to have your sleep study at a clinic as opposed to a sleep study you do at home.
Preparing for the study
It’s a good idea to limit your caffeine for a few days before your scheduled visit and to do enough exercise during the day so that you’re tired in a good way. I would also suggest limiting any foods that have been known to give you gas, indigestion, or make you thirsty.
Private sleep clinics are weirdly discreet
When you report for your sleep study, it’s often after business hours. If the clinic is in a commercial building, most of the other offices will be closed for the day and locked up.
Getting access to the building will feel shady. There may be an intercom where you let the staff know you’ve arrived, or you’ll call a special number.
Whenever I’ve been standing outside of the sleep clinic, I imagine it must feel similar to how it felt like trying to get into a speakeasy during prohibition: dangerous and illegal.
You won’t need to know a password or tell them Rocco sent you, but you’ll feel as if you should.
Someone from the clinic will come to get you and escort you to your room for the evening. They won’t say much, adding to the overall mysteriousness of the situation.
Your room will nicer than expected
The room will be comfortable — not unlike a moderately-priced motel room — only here you don’t have to worry about cleanliness, sanitation, or bedspreads covered in DNA.
The technicians want you to be as relaxed as possible and have no problem adjusting the temperature or accommodating you in your perfect sleep-environment unless it interferes with the study in some way.
Certain sleepwear is non-negotiable
If you usually sleep in a nightgown, nightshirt, only underwear, or naked, then you’re out of luck because they’re very firm on the pajamas rule and will send you home if you didn’t bring any. Pajamas may be a protective measure — if you’re tossing and turning, you won’t flash the technicians.
Reminder you’ll be on camera during the sleep study, and there are people monitoring every move or sound you make, so don’t get too comfortable.
Once you’re in your required sleepwear, have gone to the bathroom, you’re ready for bed even though you probably haven’t had this early of a bedtime six you were a child.
No study is complete without information-gathering equipment
The technician will put a lot of electrodes on you, hook up a bunch of wires that transmit data regarding your body functions, and will feed information back to a small plastic box resting on your chest. A clip will be placed on your finger or ear, and finally, a belt to hold everything in place.
Think of a robot but with all their electronic guts situated on the outside of their metal bodies.
Your brain activity, airflow, eye, and leg movement, heart rate, and oxygen saturation levels are all measured and monitored.
People react differently to a sleep study
I find that it’s extremely difficult to sleep, but I know people who have no trouble at all sleeping in a strange environment and under what feels like bizarre circumstances.
One time, when I was going down in the elevator after a sleep study, I could barely stand from lack of sleep, while another patient told his wife that it was the best night’s sleep that he’d had in a long time!
No matter how tired or easily adaptable you are, it still will be a challenge to position yourself so that all the equipment strapped to you isn’t annoying. I have to reposition myself many times throughout the night in every study I participated in.
You won’t get through the night without interruption.
Often, if you need to go to the bathroom, you request out loud, and they will turn on the lights, and the tech will come into the room to unclip you. You’ll still have most of the monitors still strapped on, but you’ll be able to use the restroom.
If during the night, they feel as if you need a CPAP machine for sleep apnea, they’ll wake you up and hook you up to one of those which if you’ve never used before will be uncomfortable.
There’s no sleeping in
Very early in the morning, the lights will come on, and the tech will take all the monitors and sensors off, allow you to go to the bathroom and get dressed. Then you fill out a short questionnaire, hope that your ride is waiting for you, and go home feeling refreshed or as if you got no sleep at all.
The gains of the study will outweigh the pains
The benefits are worth being uncomfortable sleeping away from home. Remember that you don’t have to do this every day, but if you do have sleep issues like sleep apnea, your insurance may require you to do a sleep study every year.
The older you get, the less likely it is that you’ll ever get that luxurious sleep you got as a teenager, but you still can get a satisfying night’s sleep. If you’re having problems sleeping, a sleep study is a great first step in finding out the causes of your sleep issues and figuring out the right treatment to alleviate some or all of your sleep problems.
Not only will a sleep study help you to sleep better; it will help improve your partner’s sleep too. They’ll be grateful not to be kept awake by your snoring or whatever is getting in the way of a peaceful night’s sleep.
You’ll also be more productive, happier, and have better memory skills.