How a Home Sleep Study Works
A sleep study (formally, polysomnography) is a noninvasive, overnight study that doctors use to diagnose sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy. In years past, sleep studies were almost always performed in sleep medicine labs connected to a hospital or clinic. Now, thanks to advances in technology, a home sleep study is an option for some people.
Understanding the similarities and differences between a home sleep study and those conducted in sleep medicine labs may help you appreciate why your healthcare provider may recommend one over the other.
Home and lab sleep studies both track patients’ breathing and oxygen levels during sleep. Lab sleep studies can also measure brain waves and eye and chin movements that signal different stages of sleep, as well as heart rate and rhythm, blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and leg movements.
Essentially, a home sleep study is a simplified and stripped-down version of a laboratory study. It is not nearly as comprehensive, so the results of a home study are not as accurate as a lab-conducted study. However, in many cases, clinicians can gather enough data from a home sleep study to effectively recommend treatment.
One major benefit of a home sleep study is that you get to sleep in your own bed. You’ll likely have a better night’s sleep at home—and because you’re sleeping in a familiar environment, your study results will probably be quite representative of your typical sleep experience.
Because home sleep studies are significantly cheaper than laboratory sleep studies—typically, one-third to one-fifth of the cost of a full lab study—some insurance companies won’t pay for a lab sleep study unless the patient first undergoes a home sleep study. Only if the home study reveals a need for additional information will insurance cover the cost of a laboratory study.
Before a home sleep study, you’ll have to pick up the necessary equipment at a sleep lab or clinic. (Your healthcare provider will tell you where to go.) The equipment is small and may be packaged in a case about the size of a hardcover book. Some facilities deliver the equipment to your home.
Most home sleep study kits include a small, clip-like device that goes on your finger (to measure your blood oxygen levels) and a wire or tube that goes in or is placed near your nose and mouth (to monitor your airflow throughout the night). Some also contain an elastic belt or band that needs to be placed around your chest and abdomen; others, a sensor that’s placed on your chest. These devices measure breathing effort. Some kits include what looks like a smartwatch; if so, it should be worn on your nondominant wrist when you conduct the study. (If you’re right-handed, wear it on your left hand, and vice versa.)
A technician will show you the equipment and make sure you know how to use it.
Do not nap on the day of your sleep study, and do not eat or drink caffeine after about noon. It’s also best to avoid alcohol, as alcohol interferes with sleep.
Go to bed at your usual time. Apply the sleep study equipment as directed. Go to sleep. If anything unusual happens during the night—you’re woken for a fire alarm or sick child, for instance—jot it down, so you can share the information later with your clinician.
In the morning, remove your sleep study equipment and return it as directed. Your healthcare provider will likely review the results with you within a week or so.
If you have any questions about your home study, contact your healthcare provider.