Think You May Have Sleep Apnea? Options for Testing

The time we spend sleeping dramatically affects our time awake. A good night’s sleep lets us wake up feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to take on whatever the day has in store. A rough night’s sleep, on the other hand, can lead us to starting the day on the wrong side of bed, feeling fatigued, irate, and sometimes, even sick.

But what really makes for a good night’s sleep? And if you struggle with things like snoring and sleep apnea, how can you accurately assess the quality of your sleep? Today, we’re covering the differences between healthy and poor sleep, and the tests you can take if you’re worried you may be chronically sleeping poorly.

What does it mean to get healthy sleep?

Healthy sleep, at its core, has to do with quality, quantity, and consistency. When we have these three aspects of our sleep met, it leads to more energy during the day, increased cognitive function (easier to pay attention, remember things, think on your feet), improved mental health, hormonal balance, heart health, and blood sugar reductions. So much! But what does it really mean to have a good quality, quantity, and consistency of sleep? Let’s break it down:

A high quality of sleep means you’re not waking up multiple times per night, your sleep is uninterrupted by breathing or snoring issues, and you’re able to progress through the five stages of sleep regularly. You can check out our blog on these stages and REM sleep (and dreams) here.

A high quantity of sleep doesn’t mean that you laze in bed until 11 AM each day; instead, it means you’re regularly getting about 8 hours per night. At different phases in life, you need different amounts of sleep. If you’ve had kids, then you know the importance of naptime in their infant and younger years for them to get enough sleep – typically, they’ll sleep anywhere from 10-16 hours a day depending on their age. For adolescents, neuroscience research has shown time and time again that teens need more sleep – about 8-10 hours per night. In adulthood, a solid 8 hours each night is recommended (anywhere in the 7-9 range is great).

Finally, consistency of sleep is the final factor determining your sleep health. Your body runs on a biological clock – your circadian rhythm – and this rhythm is slightly different for all people (and again, it differs in different phases of life). Some people have an early chronotype – this means they’re early risers, and likely will start feeling tired earlier. Others have a late chronotype – in other words, they’re night owls, and likely will start feeling tired later. With this in mind, there’s no set time everyone should go to bed each night – we’re all wired differently! That said, your health improves when you go to sleep and wake up at generally consistent times each day; this means you’re functioning with your biological clock.

What are the signs of poor sleep?

When one of these three factors – sleep quality, quantity, and consistency – is off, it can affect our overall health. I’m sure you know how it feels to wake up after a night of bad sleep: you can feel grouchy, and tired, perhaps with a headache or sore muscles. Over time, however, poor sleep leads to more than just a bad mood and rough morning. Chronic poor sleep can have a wide variety of implications, from heart disease, blood sugar dysregulation, mental health issues like depression and heightened anxiety, hormonal disturbances, appetite elevation, and much more. Sleep apnea is a common cause of these issues – you can read more about it in our recent blog post, linked here.

If you regularly experience the following, it may be time to think more critically about your sleep and consider a sleep study:

  • Snoring every night, or waking up from your own snoring
  • Difficulty falling asleep or waking up in the morning
  • Moments where you stop breathing in sleep, or wake up gasping for air
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom at night
  • Difficulty remembering things, concentrating, or problem solving during the day
  • Fatigue throughout the day
  • Increased appetite and negative mood alterations

Regularly experiencing one or more of these issues is a sign that your sleep may be off and it’s time to understand why, particularly if you know you’re having breathing difficulties that could be due to sleep apnea. To assess your sleep, there are two main types of sleep studies: at-home sleep apnea tests and in-lab sleep studies. We’ve outlined the pros and cons of both below.

What is an at-home sleep test?

At-home sleep apnea tests (HSATs) assess various biological metrics to identify disturbances in sleep. Typically, they’ll track things like breath and heart rate, chest and bodily motion, snoring, and blood oxygen levels during sleep. The majority of HSATs only consist of one or a few sensors that go comfortably around the wrist and a finger. A few go around the chest as well. The overarching goal of the HSAT is to identify how steady your biological functioning remains through the course of sleep, with a special focus on whether there are lapses in your breathing that may be indicative of sleep apnea.

Some people may prefer HSATs because they are more comfortable, convenient, and cheaper cost-wise. It’s important to note that you often need to get a prescription from your healthcare provider to get one of these HSATs, and that you will send your results to a professional for assessment. The sleep itself, however, happens from the comfort of your own home.

What are the pros and cons of an at-home sleep test?

Benefits of HSAT:

  • Generally less expensive than a lab sleep study
  • Potentially more comforting and realistic for some people to sleep at home than in a lab
  • Convenience of doing the entire experience from the comfort of your home
  • Typically shorter wait time

Cons of HSAT:

  • Lower quality of data on your sleep – less accurate
  • Doesn’t measure as much as an in-lab study
  • No professional to help you set up the HSAT
  • Technology may malfunction or give inaccurate results

What is an in-lab sleep study?

Polysomnography is the technical term for an in-lab sleep study. In these cases, you go to a specialized sleep center to – as the name suggests – sleep! Generally, in-lab studies are more important for individuals with severe sleep issues that need a higher quality of assessment and measurement.

Typically, at an in-lab sleep study, you’ll arrive before bedtime, generally completing a questionnaire about your sleep when you arrive. You’ll likely go through your bedtime routine at the center as you normally would, and you’re typically able to wear your own pajamas, bringing blankets and pillows you prefer, too.

When you’re ready to begin, the sleep technician will apply a variety of sensors to your head, nose, chest, and legs. After this, you will go to sleep! The tech monitors your sleep throughout the night, typically until 6 or 7 AM. The data collected will be assessed and provided to you once analyzed by your physicians.

What are the pros and cons of a sleep study?

Benefits of In-Lab Sleep Studies:

  • More accurate, objective, and holistic review of sleep quality
  • Data is collected by professionals able to troubleshoot at anytime
  • Convenience of the entire experience being done for you (no setup you’re responsible for)

Cons of In-Lab Sleep Studies:

  • Sleeping in a lab with many sensors may be uncomfortable for some people
  • Occasionally more costly
  • Sometimes longer wait time

If you’re ready to get started with a sleep study – whether at home, or in a lab – we recommend you speak with your medical provider to determine which option is best for you. Some insurances will also cover one or both of these avenues. You deserve a high quality, quantity, and consistency of sleep – if you aren’t currently getting it, consider one of these options!

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