More than 100 million Americans struggle to sleep well. Statistics show that over 18 million individuals may have sleep apnea, but only 3 million of those have a diagnosis. The danger in not seeking diagnosis and treatment is evident in the number of annual deaths: approximately 38,000 people die annually from complications caused by sleep apnea. But how does a doctor diagnose sleep apnea?

Clues that You May Have Sleep Apnea

It’s time to see a doctor specially trained in sleep disorders when you have had trouble sleeping for more than a month or if you are tired during the day for unknown reasons. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, it is important to seek evaluation in a sleep lab. You and your primary care physician should not assume that you have “insomnia.” 

Recent studies show that a high percentage (30-50%) of people diagnosed with insomnia have another sleep disorder. One of the most common sleep disorders you may suffer from is obstructive sleep apnea. 

If you snore, you probably have already heard about your problem from a bed partner. Snoring can become a more serious issue if there are noted pauses in breathing. When your sleep breathing stops and starts throughout the night, your ENT doctor may diagnose sleep apnea. 

How Will the Doctor Know If I Have a Sleep Disorder?

Many individuals suffer from sleep apnea without realizing their sleep apnea disorder causes their daytime sleepiness. Not everyone with sleep apnea snores. 

Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Breathing pauses, gasps, or snoring in your sleep
  • Waking up tired, even after a full night of sleep
  • A headache upon awakening.
  • Feeling sleepy or exhausted during the day
  • Need for frequent naps
  • Problems with memory or concentration
  • Cranky or short-tempered

If you do not seek treatment for sleep apnea, statistics show that you may face:

  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Cognitive impairment and poor job performance
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Memory loss and dementia
  • Hypertension, 
  • Cardiac disease
  • Stroke
  • Traffic accidents

Also, it is imperative to have your nocturnal breathing pattern evaluated before starting any sleep medications. Many sleep medications may depress your respiratory drive causing even more respiratory distress. Taking sleep medications before an evaluation from a sleep specialist can be dangerous for your health.

A Sleep Study is a Good First Step

ENT doctors treat sleep apnea by first considering your symptoms. Usually, a sleep study is an integral part of the doctor’s investigation into whether you face disordered sleep. A sleep study is a painless series of tests performed in an overnight setting that evaluate your sleep patterns. 

Sleep studies are a non-invasive and painless evaluation of your sleep. Clinicians attach electrodes to your skin, you go to sleep normally, and the test begins. Doctors evaluate the electrode data for many different bodily systems. Data gathered includes your:

  • Brain waves
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Breathing patterns
  • Respiratory efforts
  • Oxygen levels
  • Snoring
  • Muscle tone and leg movements 
  • Electrocardiogram data
  • Heart rate 

If you wake up or have difficulty sleeping, the study helps determine why. After the study is over, you leave the sleep center the following day and come back in several weeks to discuss the results with your ENT doctor.

Common Questions about Sleep Studies

How Long Does a Sleep Study Take?

Most sleep studies begin with a procedure to apply the electrodes starting shortly after your scheduled appointment time (between 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm). The application of the electrodes takes roughly 30 to 45 minutes. 

Your study generally takes place in a private room, and the testing procedure typically starts between 9 pm and 11:30 pm and will continue until about 5 am. The technologist will monitor your room from the hallways throughout the night. There is no pressure to fall asleep at a specific time. However, falling asleep as soon as possible maximizes observed sleep time. 

Does the Test Hurt?

The test is non-invasive and not painful. The sleep lab environment is dark and quiet, and conducive to sleeping. However, the wires and electrodes occasionally affect some patients’ sleep. If you are concerned about your ability to fall asleep during the testing procedure, we suggest that you deprive yourself of some sleep the night before the test by waking up earlier than usual.

Can I use a Sleep Aid?

While many individuals say, “There’s no way I can fall asleep with all that stuff on me!” the truth is that almost everyone falls asleep, even if it takes longer than usual. If you worry, you may discuss your fears with your physician during your initial appointment and consider together whether you need a sleep aid. Over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids are fine to use.

Will I Feel Comfortable?

You may generally bring items such as your pillow or a blanket. Pagers or cell phones are not generally allowed as these things may interfere with lab equipment, disrupt the sleep study and affect your test results. If you must have these devices with you, you’ll need to turn them off during testing. 

Many ENT offices have a refrigerator and can bring a bedtime snack.  Patients needing to use the bathroom during the study need to notify the technologist. They will unhook one or two central connections, which will enable you to get up and walk to the bathroom.

It is common to wear pajamas, sweatpants, shorts, and a T-shirt. If you need to stay for additional testing the next day, you may also need to bring something you can wear in the public lounge. Most sleep centers do not permit sleeping in the nude.

What If I Need Someone With Me?

If you need 24-hour care, your caregiver may stay with you in a room specially fitted with two beds. Many sleep study centers will make arrangements if your spouse wishes to accompany you. 

Can a Sleep Study be Done At Home?

Many sleep centers offer in-home testing. This only works in some cases, though. During your consultation with a sleep specialist, you can determine if home testing is proper for you. Sometimes, more information is needed than an in-home study can provide, so sleep specialists work with you to make the right decision for your health.

How is my Privacy Protected?

Sleep studies routinely include a digitally recorded video that enables the Sleep Center physician to visually observe sleep position, movements, respiration, and other sleep-related information. Sleep centers require written consent to perform the sleep study and record video. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects your data.

How Do I Find Out the Results of My Sleep Study?

A sleep center physician will review the sleep data along with your clinical history to arrive at a diagnosis. The technologist present to monitor your sleep study cannot discuss results with you. Once the sleep center physician reviews and interprets the study, a final report will be forwarded to your doctor within a week. Follow up with your ENT doctor after the study to determine your next steps for treatment if necessary. 

We Can Help

At Enticare, we work as a team to find out the source of your sleep problems. We’re open around the clock and can conduct your sleep study any night that works best for you. We also perform daytime sleep studies for second and third-shift workers. Medicare and most private health insurance companies cover office visits, sleep studies, and CPAP services. We offer affordable cash prices for those with high deductibles or no insurance.

Restful sleep is an integral part of good health. We understand that you need your nightly sleep to function optimally. If you struggle to get your zzz’s each night, schedule an initial appointment with us to determine if you have risk factors for sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. If we detect a possible sleep disorder, we can schedule your sleep study, interpret your results, and help you wake up each day feeling refreshed and ready for life again. Contact us today and find out how we can help. 

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