What to Expect with an At-Home Sleep Study?

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If you struggle to catch a decent night of rest, you may have a sleep disorder like Sleep apnea, one of the most common nighttime disorders. If you see a sleep specialist, they may recommend an at-home sleep study to properly diagnose and treat your condition.

There are two main forms of sleep apnea, obstructive and central. When a person exhibits both obstructive and central symptoms, they have what is known as complex sleep apnea. Among the three, obstructive is the most prevalent.

While a sleep disorder can disrupt quality rest, the health dangers extend far beyond that. For this reason, a proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment plan are essential. This article will examine one of the ways to diagnose sleep apnea, in the comfort of your home.

What Is an At-Home Sleep Study?

Illustration of an At-Home Sleep Study Sleep Apnea Research and Test

At-home sleep studies[1] are used to diagnose whether a person has obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). You can complete the test right at home without spending the night in a sleep lab.

You also have to administer the exam independently without the help of a technician or sleep specialist. However, your sleep doctor will be able to help guide you through the steps beforehand, so you have a better understanding of how it works.

A healthcare provider will provide you with the appropriate equipment. In addition, many at-home sleep tests are relatively small and portable.

What Do They Evaluate?

A home sleep study will look at three biological measures while you are asleep. Each of these measures is used to help determine whether you have obstructive sleep apnea.

Airflow

The first measure examines your airflow in the nasal passages and mouth. To do this, you will tape a narrow wire to your nose and mouth, which remains in place overnight.

Respiratory Effort

The second measurement focuses on your breathing effort. To evaluate your respiratory effort, you will place elastic bands across your chest and stomach.

Illustration of a Person with Breathing Disorder Sleeping

Oxygen Levels

The third portion of the home sleep test is to measure your oxygen levels. You attach a small oximeter finger probe to your fingertip. The device emits a red light to help measure oxygen levels while asleep.

Pros and Cons of Home Sleep Tests

Before undergoing a home sleep study, you should weigh the pros and cons of this method. While some folks may prefer the home version, others might favor testing for obstructive sleep apnea in a professional lab.

Advantages

Illustration of a Man Snoring While Sleeping

The obvious advantage of administering a sleep test at home is the home part. For example, certain individuals may prefer the comfort of their bed to help them sleep easier, especially if they are wearing medical instruments.

Another perk to home tests is that they are more economical compared to sleep center ones. According to Dr. Susheel P. Patil, MD, Ph.D. with Johns Hopkins Medicine[2], a home sleep test costs roughly a third of the price of lab ones and is usually covered by insurance.

Home sleep studies are also more convenient for the patient. You do not have to drive to and from a lab, saving you time and energy.

Furthermore, these tests are less intrusive than ones done in a sleep center. Conversely, tests administered at a lab are more intricate and involve additional devices, including an EEG, EKG, EMG, and other equipment.

Disadvantages

Despite the pros of trying to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea at home, there are significant cons to this method that you need to know. The following disadvantages may sway your decision whether to do a home sleep test.

Testing at home evaluates your breathing, and this includes searching for gaps in the breath, respiratory effort, and any shallow – or minimal – inhalations. However, these tests do not measure how well you rest. For example, advanced testing can examine how long you are in REM and non-REM sleep.

A home sleep test is also not as accurate as those done in a sleep lab setting. For instance, a sleep technician can ensure the equipment does not come off at night and is placed on correctly. Even if you do a home sleep test, your doctor may still recommend one in the lab as well to secure more accurate results.

Animated Image of a Man Suffering from A Restless Leg Syndrome

Furthermore, poor sleep does not necessarily mean you have apnea specifically. There are other sleep disorders that can interfere with rest, such as insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy.

In total, Cleveland Clinic reports there are 80 known sleep disorders. However, these three, along with sleep apnea, are more common disorders[3] among patients with sleep issues.

How Do They Work?

Experts estimate that upwards of 25 million Americans[4] have obstructive sleep apnea. Therefore, the need for quality, convenient testing is crucial, and this type of test is growing in popularity among patients. Plus, at-home sleep studies are a fairly simple process.

Talk to Your Doctor

To begin, you will need to assess your symptoms and consult with your doctor. Common OSA symptoms[5] include: loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, pauses in breathing during sleep, suddenly waking up while gasping or choking, dry mouth or sore throat, morning headaches, difficulty concentrating, negative mood changes, high blood pressure, and decreased libido.

Your doctor will then determine whether you should take an at-home sleep study. Once approved, the doctor can order the testing kit. A physician must always approve At-home sleep studies.

Visit Our Guide: Sleep Apnea – Types and Treatment Options

A Doctor Listening to a Patient Illustration

Receive the Equipment

You will either receive the test in the mail or pick it up from your doctor’s office. Once you have the supplies, you are free to begin testing. However, if you have any questions or concerns before taking it, address them with your doctor to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Apply the Monitors

Once you are all set, you will apply the monitors to your body before going to bed. Do not forget to put on all three measuring devices and make sure they are securely fastened.

Your physician will advise you how many nights to use the equipment, which could range from one to three. Although you should not experience any pain from these instruments, you may feel some discomfort.

Return Devices to the Sleep Lab

Once you complete the overnight testing, the next step is to return the materials to your doctor. After that, your doctor or sleep specialist will review the results of the study.

Find Out the Results

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM[6]), it can take up to several weeks to learn the results of your sleep study. After this time, your physician will go over what they found.

The next course of action will depend on what the diagnosis is. If the medical team concludes you have obstructive sleep apnea, there are different OSA treatment options available depending on the severity of your condition. Sleep apnea treatment options include lifestyle changes, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, oral appliance therapy, surgery, and more.

Illustration of a Woman Putting CPAP Chin Strap On

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do they cost?

According to the American Sleep Association, at-home sleep studies cost between 150 and 500 dollars. While many insurance providers should help cover this cost, the patient needs to meet certain health requirements. Those requisites include exhibiting sleep apnea symptoms, and the physician must deem the test a “medical necessity.”

Insurance companies that provide home sleep test coverage include Medicare, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Aetna, and Cigna. To avoid any staggering out-of-pocket costs, you should confirm coverage with your provider first.

Find Out More:  Sleep Apnea Tests Costs – At-Home and In-Lab

How do I prepare for a sleep study at home?

You can do certain things before the study to help get the most accurate results possible. The first recommendation is to avoid napping on the day of your test since naps can impact your ability to fall asleep later at night.

Another culprit that could prevent you from easily falling asleep is caffeine. Though you should be fine sipping on some coffee in the morning, steer clear of any caffeine in the afternoon or evening.

Even after six hours, caffeine[7] remains in your system and could take up to ten hours to completely leave the body. If you consume caffeine too late in the day, this could prevent you from falling asleep at bedtime.

Lastly, the American Sleep Association advises either sleeping on your back or side. Back sleeping is considered the worst position for sleep apnea. However, this can give the medical sleep a clearer understanding of the extent of your condition.

Woman Working Late at Night

Sources and References:

  • [1] “At-Home Sleep Apnea Test”,  American Sleep Association
  • [2] “What to Know About an At-Home Sleep Test”, Johns Hopkins Medicine
  • [3] “Common Sleep Disorders”, Cleveland Clinic, December 23, 2020
  • [4] “When Is a Home Sleep Apnea Test Appropriate?”, University of Michigan Health, March 18, 2016
  • [5]  “Obstructive sleep apnea”, Mayo Clinic, July 27, 2021
  • [6] “What is a sleep study?”, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, September 2020
  • [7] “Caffeine: How to Hack It and How to Quit It”, Cleveland Clinic
Content Writer

Jill Zwarensteyn is a content writer for Sleep Advisor and is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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