You may have many questions as you prepare for your upcoming in-lab sleep study. You may even feel a lot of pressure and anxiety over making sure you get the right results so you can get back to restful sleep.
The anxiety you feel over your upcoming sleep study is perfectly normal. The thought of someone watching you while you sleep while hooked up to monitors can feel overwhelming. The added pressure of having to fall asleep in a new environment can add to the anxiety you are feeling.
A quality sleep study will help you feel better, think more clearly, and have more energy. If you can get through the study with minimal anxiety, the data collected will be a great benefit to your overall health and wellbeing.
A lot of anxiety can also come from not knowing what the sleep study will be like. Knowing what to expect ahead of time can help you feel more relaxed during your study and help the whole process go smother.
The biggest worry is the fear of the unknown. You might not know what to expect prior to arriving at the sleep clinic. You need to know more than what time to arrive, what to bring, and what to do on the day of your study. Educating yourself ahead of time can do a lot to relieve the fear of the unknown.
Another fear is not being able to fall asleep or not being able to stay asleep. The thought of having to sleep on command while being monitored can feel intimidating. Especially if you feel like your life depends on the results of your sleep study.
The anxiety you feel about not being able to fall asleep can result in a vicious cycle of not being able to sleep because of worry.
A lot of sleep disorder symptoms, such as snoring, drooling, thrashing, and night sweats can be embarrassing. The thought of these behaviors been watched and recorded can make you feel uncomfortable.
Other fears include worries over how to sleep with the wires and monitors or what to do when you have to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the study. Or perhaps you are anxious over having to go to work or resume daily tasks after your study.
You may want to do an at-home sleep testing to avoid a lot of the anxiety you are feeling. Just know that a home sleep study does not include all the sensors as an in-lab study does. Home tests often come up negative or miss key information since they aren’t as accurate.
The best way to relieve your anxiety and fears is through education. Learn about what a sleep study entails so that you know beforehand what to expect.
What a sleep study is
For most people, what happens while you sleep is a mystery. You go to bed at night expecting to wake up refreshed and ready to go in the morning. But instead you wake up tired and drag through the day just to repeat.
You may know that you are snoring or that you are suffering from the symptoms of sleep deprivation. The mystery is why you are suffering while you sleep.
A sleep study can show the reasons why you may not be sleeping as well as you would like to. The results can also reveal possible treatments that could elevate your symptoms.
A sleep study, or a polysomnogram (PSG), is usually conducted overnight in a sleep clinic. The purpose of the study is to measure how your body functions during sleep.
Various monitors will record your brain activity, eye movements, heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels, body movement, and more as you sleep. While each test will vary depending on individual needs and symptoms, the most common measurements taken include:
- Brain waves (EEG): measured with surface electrodes on the scalp
- Eye movements (EOG): measured with surface electrodes next to the eyes
- Muscle movements (EMG: measured with surface electrodes on and under the chin
- Limb movements (EMG): measured with surface electrodes on the lower legs
- Heart rate (ECG) - measured with surface electrodes on the chest
- Breathing (Nasal/Oral): measured with surface electrodes placed onto the skin near the nose and mouth
- Breathing (Respiratory): measured with small, elastic bands placed around the chest and abdomen or surface electrodes placed on the ribcage
- Blood Oxygen Levels (SpO2): measured with a small probe attached to the finger
- Esophageal Pressure (Pes): measured with a small tube inserted into the nose and placed within the esophagus to monitor the work of breathing
- Video Recording: body movements recorded during sleep
The results will show what your body is doing every moment you are asleep. All of the data collected from your sleep study will show your doctor the bigger picture of what is happening while you sleep. Any red flags discovered will help with the diagnosis and treatment of your sleep problems.
Preparing for your sleep study
Preparing for your sleep study ahead of time can relieve part of the anxiety you feel.
The first step to preparing for your sleep study is to keep a list of any questions or concerns you have. You can discuss your worries with your doctor or with the sleep clinic staff before your study starts. Don’t worry if you think the questions is too silly or trivial; your sleep team wants you to be comfortable.
You will be advised to avoid any caffeine (coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, and energy drinks) and alcohol the day of your sleep study. These substances can interfere with the results of the study, which in turn will make you feel more anxious. You should also wash your hair with only shampoo before coming in for your study. Your hair should be dry without any hair spray, oils, or gels since these products can interfere with the sensors.
Packing an overnight bag with items that will make you feel more comfortable can help ease your nerves. Make sure you bring a pair of pajamas you feel good in. Other items that will help you feel more relaxed are your own pillow and blanket and a book or movie. You should also bring your own medications as well as the toiletries you usually use to get ready for bed.
If you are still feeling anxious at this point, talk to the sleep center staff about your concerns. You are always welcome to go to the sleep clinic beforehand to see what the rooms look like and to get a feel for the environment. And remember that it is ok to ask any questions beforehand; there are no silly questions.
What to expect during the study
You will be given a specific time to show up for your sleep study. Arriving early can help relieve anxiety, as you won’t feel as rushed. When it is time, you will be called back to go to your room.
You will be given time to change into your pajamas and to get ready for bed before the sleep study officially begins. Use this time to relax by either readying or watching a show or movie.
When your sleep technologist comes back in, be sure to let them know what time you want to wake up in the morning. Make sure to tell your technologist about any worries you have about commitments you might have the next day.
At this point, the sleep technologist will begin prepping you for the actual sleep study. You will have about two dozen sensors applied to various spots on your head and body. Some of the sensor attachments will be done using a glue-like substance, which can be easily removed with soap and warm water.
Other electrodes and devices will be attached with hypoallergenic medical tape. Putting the sensors on your body is a painless process. Don’t be afraid of asking questions during this process.
Wires will run from the sensors to a computer so your vital signs can be recorded as you sleep. The wires and sensors can seem intimidating and you might worry you won’t be able to sleep. The wires are long enough to let you move and turn over in bed as you usually do.
All of the sensors and wires may feel a bit uncomfortable at first but most people get used to the feeling after a few minutes. Let your sleep technician know if at any point you are feeling panicked over the sensors or if something is too uncomfortable.
Once everything is hooked up, your technician will ask you to move your eyes, clench your teeth, move your legs, and other tasks to make sure all of the sensors are working. You are then welcome to read or watch something until your normal bedtime.
You should be able to fall asleep by this point. Try breathing deeply and think relaxing thoughts if you are feeling anxious over not being able to fall asleep right away.
And don’t worry if you have to get up to go to the bathroom during the night. Most people have to get up at least once during a sleep study. If you have to go, just say out loud that you have to go.
Your technologist will hear you and come in to unplug your wires so you can go. When you’re done, your technologist will hook you back up and you can get back to sleeping.
If you show indications of sleep apnea, your sleep technician may come back in during the night to try continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for a while.
Having to sleep with a CPAP machine for the first time during your study can cause you to feel anxious and fearful. Try to relax and focus on the rhythm of the machine as you fall back asleep.
In the morning, you will be unhooked from all the sensors and will be able to get on with your day. You will be contacted by your sleep physician about your results within a few days.
There is no need to fear your sleep study. At the Alaska Sleep Clinic, we understand how intimidating the sleep lab can seem. We are here to ease all of your anxiety so that you can have a successful sleep study. After all, the results could change your life for the better.