Should You Do a Sleep Study?

If you’re not getting quality shuteye, you may have a sleep disorder.

September 2016

More than a quarter of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep deprivation can lead to problems as minor as moodiness and as major as heart disease. So catching enough Z’s should be a high priority. You may need to simply tuck under the covers a little earlier each night—or you could be up against a condition that needs medical help. Find out which symptoms make you a good candidate for a sleep study.

When to consider a sleep study

According to the National Institutes of Health, some symptoms that may indicate a sleep disorder include:

  • Chronic snoring (or choking or gasping sounds)
  • Feeling sleepy during the day—even after spending a full night in bed
  • Taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep
  • Waking up throughout the night and not being able to fall back asleep
  • Creeping, tingling or crawling feelings in your legs when you try to fall asleep
  • Vivid dreams while falling asleep
  • Feeling like you can’t move when you wake up
  • Jerking your arms or legs during sleep (something your partner may notice when you’re asleep)

If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it’s time to call a doctor certified in sleep medicine.

What to expect during a sleep study

A sleep physician will conduct a physical exam, take a thorough medical history and ask questions about your nutrition and lifestyle. Certain issues can be addressed right in the exam room, but your doctor may want to schedule an overnight sleep study as well. Some sleep studies can be done at home with portable equipment, but most take place in a laboratory.

Sleeping in a laboratory isn’t exactly like checking into the Ritz, but the medical team will do everything they can to make you comfortable in a private, hotel-like bedroom. You’ll be allowed to bring personal items like pillows and books. Most studies use polysomnography and other tests to evaluate your sleep cycles over the course of the night. Your doctor will collect data on eye movement, heart rate, airflow, body movement and more. Video may record any movements, whether it’s restless tossing and turning or acting out dreams.

Common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy and restless leg syndrome; rarer conditions include REM sleep behavior disorder, sleepwalking and sleep terrors. If you are diagnosed with a disorder, your physician will work with you to improve your sleep—and your everyday health.