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My Sleep Study Experience: Overnight Test for Sleep Apnea

Ron knows about sleep apnea firsthand. After being diagnosed with the condition almost 20 years ago, he has happily used a CPAP ever since.

My Snoring Becomes A Wake-Up Call

It was my snoring that finally caused me to do something about my sleep problem.

At first, when my wife told me I was an extremely loud snorer, we both treated it as something of a joke. To be honest, I didn’t really believe it. But it got worse. It eventually reached the point where it was making her nights miserable—and sometimes my snores were so loud I was even waking myself up. We knew something had to be done.

Seeking a Solution To My Loud Snoring

The first thing I tried was nasal strips, the little appliances athletes often attach to their nostrils to allow greater air intake during exertion. These products were widely advertised as solutions for snoring problems, but for me they provided no relief at all. After trying them for a couple of weeks, I gave up on that hope.

As I continued searching, the marketplace seemed filled with anti-snoring devices and home remedies of various kinds, but none seemed right for me. My greatest fear was that the only effective solution would be surgery, which I definitely did not want.

The breakthrough came when I discussed my snoring problem with my doctor. I also mentioned that I was having a lot of trouble staying awake during the day. Sitting at my desk at work, I would often find myself dozing off, unable to keep alert and focused on my job. The combination of my two symptoms, snoring and daytime sleepiness, was a significant clue to my real problem. My doctor immediately sent me to a specialist, an MD whose practice focused on sleep-related issues.

A Specialist Sends Me for a Sleep Study

After examining me, the specialist recommended that I have a sleep study done. A sleep study is designed to provide continuous measurements of brain activity, muscle movement, heart rate, breathing, and blood oxygen levels as you sleep normally. That information then becomes the basis for the physician's diagnosis of the causes of your sleep issues, and the course of treatment required to alleviate the problem.

What the Sleep Study Experience Was Like

I was not at all convinced that I needed to take what seemed like a pretty drastic step. The sleep study would involve actually staying overnight in a testing facility, all wired up with electrodes, and with a stranger watching me sleep. I didn't think a little snoring necessitated all that. But I finally agreed.

What To Expect At Your Sleep Study

The study was done in a local hospital sleep center. I arrived in the early evening, and after the intake procedures were completed, was allowed to relax before going to bed. When bedtime arrived, the staff attached electrodes to various parts of my body, including an LED finger clip to measure oxygen levels in my blood.

None of this was painful or even very uncomfortable, except for a little pressure from the finger clip. As far as I remember, being all wired up did not adversely affect my sleep.

A sleep study center

A sleep study center

The data from the probes was sent to a computer in the next room which kept a continuous record of how my body functioned as I slept. The computer kept track of factors such as eye movements, brain activity, heart rate, and levels of oxygen and carbon monoxide in my blood. At the completion of the test this data would be used to produce a chart, called a polysomnogram, which would allow my doctor to analyze in detail every aspect of my sleep experience.

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When the preparations were complete, the room was darkened, and I was left to go to sleep as I normally would. The sleep technician was in an adjacent room monitoring the readouts from the electrodes that had been attached to me. She would occasionally enter the room during the night to check on me.

I found this experience of sleeping in a strange place under the watchful eye of someone I didn’t know far less disturbing than I had anticipated. All in all, I seemed to sleep about as well as I would at home.

How the Sleep Test Was Conducted

After being allowed to sleep normally for some time, the technician awakened me for the second half of the test. She fitted me with a mask attached to a device that was designed to help me breathe better during sleep. I later learned that this was called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine. Now, with the mask on my face to provide more air than I could take in on my own, I went back to sleep as the computer continued to record how my body was functioning as I slept.

By dividing the test into sections of normal sleep, and sleep assisted by the CPAP machine, the resulting polysomnograms would allow my doctor to compare the quality of my sleep both with and without use of the CPAP. (Note that the two halves of the test, without and with CPAP, may be conducted in separate visits, especially if this is your initial sleep study).

In the morning the technician awakened me at the planned time. After being unhooked from the equipment, I was left to get dressed and prepared for the day. I went from the sleep center directly to work.

My Sleep Study Produces Some Surprising Results

Before going in for the sleep study, I had been interviewed about my sleep habits and asked to fill out a questionnaire. One of the questions asked how often I found myself awaking and then going back to sleep during the night. I confidently answered that this rarely happened. Another question concerned whether I ever stopped breathing while sleeping. That, too, I was sure did not apply to me. Imagine my surprise when the results of the study showed that my breathing stopped, and I awoke slightly gasping for air, literally dozens of times during the night. These are classic symptoms of sleep apnea.

I was totally unaware this was happening until the sleep study revealed it. It also showed that because of all the times I stopped breathing, the levels of oxygen in my blood during the night were far lower than they should have been. I was actually in a medically dangerous condition without knowing it.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Loud snoring at night

Being headachy when you awake in the morning

Awakening during the night gasping for air

Sleepiness during the day

Sleep apnea can be a life threatening condition. It was a major contributing factor to famed pro football player Reggie White dying in his sleep at age 43. You can read about it at:

NFL Star Reggie White: Death Due to Obstructive Sleep Apnea

CPAP: The Solution to My Snoring Problem

When she got the results of my sleep study test, my specialist informed me of my sleep apnea diagnosis, and strongly recommended that I begin using a CPAP machine. The breathing difficulties I was experiencing were due to blockages caused by the unconscious and unintended relaxation of muscles in my breathing passages as soon as I entered a state of sleep. The CPAP supplies positive air pressure to keep breathing passages open when that muscle relaxation takes place.

As a result of the sleep study and my doctor’s diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea, my insurance carrier provided me with a CPAP machine at no cost to myself. The only stipulation was that during a probation period I had to actually use the device pretty much every night. The machine itself kept a record of when it was being used.

I have used my CPAP every night for years, now. My snoring is gone, I sleep much better at night, and I'm far less tired during the day.

It took me a little while to adjust to sleeping with a mask on my face. I had to learn by trial and error how to position my head for greatest comfort and least seepage of air from the mask. But it has been worth it. Nothing could induce me to go back to the kind of nights I was enduring before my sleep study and the CPAP treatment that resulted from it.

If you are having difficulties with snoring at night and sleepiness during the day, get that sleep study done! It can change your life for the better. If you are one of the many people who are suffering from sleep apnea but don't know it, a sleep study may literally be a life saver.