Millions of people suffer from undiagnosed sleep problems, blaming their exhaustion on lack of sleep and stress. But most sleep disorders can be treated, if they are first properly diagnosed.
We know our bodies need sleep, and probably more than most of us get. But if you’re not getting the rest your body needs even when you are sleeping, you may be setting yourself up for life threatening health problems.
In fact, says Rob Hayden, director of the Baystate Neuroscience Program, the top five causes of death include sleep issues as a related condition: heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, accidental death, and stroke.
The trend in health care has moved from in-hospital sleep studies to at-home sleep studies, due in large part to the cost. However, says Hayden, it’s important to understand what disorders can be diagnosed with each type of study.
At-Home Sleep Studies
A home sleep test is a diagnostic test that can determine whether or not you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It involves the use of a portable-monitoring system that is small enough for you to use at home. The system consists of a small recording device, sensors, belts and related cables, and accessories.
The sleep recorder gathers data as you sleep in your own bed. It receives information from sensors that are applied to specific locations on your body to monitor heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory airflow, and respiratory effort.
After you return the home sleep testing device, the data is downloaded to a computer and a board certified sleep specialist interprets your results and creates a diagnostic report.
“Home sleep studies look primarily for obstructive sleep apnea,” says Hayden. “Often, people have a home sleep study, and the results come back negative, so they assume they are fine.”
However, with more than 80 different types of sleep disorders, ranging from restless legs syndrome to sleepwalking, that may not be the case.
Says Hayden, “If you are still experiencing symptoms of a sleep disorder [see sidebar below] after a negative at-home sleep study, you are probably eligible for an in-hospital sleep study. It’s something you should talk about with your sleep specialist or primary care provider.”
In-Hospital Sleep Studies
In-hospital sleep studies are usually performed at night, but can be done during the day for shift workers. You come in to the sleep center at night, and have a private room with a comfortable bed, television, personal light and temperature controls within a quiet and relaxing setting.
Baystate’s sleep technologists connect you to the necessary equipment to measure your brainwaves, eye movement, limb movement, electrocardiogram, nasal and oral airflow, respiratory effort, and oxygen saturation, which usually includes sensors on your head, chest, arms, and legs.
Your sleep is monitored overnight. Occasionally, the sleep technologist will make adjustments during the night to further investigate a potential sleep problem.
Regardless of whether you have an at-home or in-hospital sleep study through the Baystate Regional Sleep Program, your test is read by a board certified sleep specialist, either a neurologist or pulmonologist, and the results and treatment options are discussed with you during a follow-up appointment with your sleep specialist or are sent to your primary care provider for follow-up.
“Where you get your sleep study can have a big impact on your results,” says Hayden. “You want to make sure the technologists who conduct the studies are registered sleep technologists, or have experience performing sleep studies and are under the tutelage of a registered technologist, and that the doctors reading the results specialize in sleep medicine. It’s also important that the sleep center is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to ensure contemporary testing standards are met.”
Hayden adds that talking with your primary care provider about your sleep issues is important. “Be honest with your provider about your symptoms and behavior, including smoking and alcohol use, both of which can have a major impact on your sleep. The more information you provide, the more likely you are to get the appropriate testing and the most accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.”
Signs of a Potential Sleep Disorder
• You sleep for the right number of hours (7-9 for adults), but you’re still tired when you get up.
• You snore or stop breathing when you sleep (often it’s your partner who will notice this).
• You nod off during normal daytime activities like driving, reading, or at work.
• You’ve had trouble falling or staying asleep for at least a month.
• You have another health condition that disrupts your sleep.
The Baystate Regional Sleep Program offers in-home and in-hospital sleep studies at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, and Baystate Mary Lane Hospital in Ware.