Your Sleep Study- What It's All About

You may have many questions as you prepare for a sleep study at a sleep center or lab. At Rocky Mountain Sleep, we want to do our absolute best to help you feel more relaxed before and during the study. Surprisingly, many people find that taking a sleep study is actually fascinating experience, and our technology has improved over the years dramatically to make your sleep study the best experience it can be.  Sleep studies can help reveal some of the secrets and dispel some of the mystery of your sleep. It will show in very precise details exactly what happens while you are sleeping.  This data will help you and your physician identify and treat any sleep disorder such as sleep apnea that you may have been unaware of until now. Getting refreshing, quality sleep is essential to your health and quality of life, and after your study, your sleep specialist will have a good idea of how to help you sleep better.  Improving your sleep will help you feel better, think more clearly, and have more energy. It will be a great benefit to your overall health and quality of life, especially for patients with other health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or history/risk factors of stroke.


Preparing For Your Sleep Study

Do not have any caffeine in the afternoon or evening before an overnight sleep study. This includes coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate. Try not to take any naps that day, and also try to avoid alcohol. Before going to the sleep center, if possible, wash your hair with shampoo only.  Dry your hair and do not apply any hair sprays, oils or gels. If used, they could interfere with the sensors during the study.

Pack an overnight bag to take with you to the center, as you will be spending the night.  Bring comfortable pajamas and a change of clothes for the morning.  Include the same items you would take for a stay at a hotel. Please feel free to bring your own pillow, blanket, or other necessary items you feel might help you sleep. Bring your medications. Many patients have night time and morning medications, and your technician performing your study will guide you as to any medications you may need to avoid prior to your study. Also, if you think you may have any difficulty sleeping, as you will be away from home and testing equipment will be in place, it may be recommended for you to contact your physician explaining that you feel that you may benefit from bringing a prescription sleep aid with you that your doctor can prescribe and send with you for your study. Some patients do have concerns with taking sleeping aids, and any concerns you may have can be discussed with your physician or your technician at the sleep lab.


Medications and Special Needs or Accommodations

It is very important that your physician and the sleep specialist is aware of any medications that you are taking. This includes both prescription and non-prescription drugs. He or she should even know if you are taking common cold medicines or pain relievers. Certain drugs can affect your sleep and the results of the study. You may need to gradually stop taking some medications in the days leading up to a sleep study. Your doctor will let you know if this is something you need to do. Do not stop taking any prescription medication without first talking to your sleep specialist.

Also, the sleep doctors reading your study like to have as much sleep data as possible to help diagnose, possibly initiate treatment such as CPAP if it is your first study, a prescription sleep aid would be recommended as opposed to an over the counter sleep aid. If you have special needs or concerns, such as mobility issues, requesting a shower or hospital bed, please tell the sleep center staff ahead of time. By explaining any special requests as described above with our staff while scheduling your study, that information will be relayed to your night technician who will be sure to accommodate any and all needs we can. We will do all they can to help you feel relaxed and at ease, as well as educated as to the testing process and why you are here. 


You’ve arrived! What’s next?

Your appointment will be scheduled for either 8:00 or 9:00pm. If you have any questions regarding directions or locations of the sleep center, please feel free to contact us and we will be sure to help you find us. You will be greeted, and admission paperwork will be the first step. Please be sure to bring your insurance card if applicable, as well as the packet of questionnaires you were sent in the mail. If you have not received a packet of questionnaires prior to arriving, we will have them ready for you to fill out here.  You will then be taken back to your room for the night and asked to go ahead and get ready for bed as usual. You will be given plenty of time to change into nightclothes and to make yourself at home in the bedroom. You should get ready for bed in the same way you do at home. There may be a waiting period where you have some extra time to relax. You can read, watch TV, or feel free to bring your tablet or laptop as we do offer WiFi for our guests. When the technologist returns, be sure to confirm your wake-up time in the morning (You will be woken between 6am and 6:30am in the morning after your study). Please inform your tech if you have an early-morning commitment that you need to keep.

Next, your tech will begin to set you up with the testing equipment. Many sensors are applied to the skin of your head and body with very mild and hypoallergenic adhesives. All of these wires will be tied back, and you will be able to move around and sleep in the positions that are most comfortable for you.  The wires are long enough to let you move around and turn over in bed. Flexible elastic belts around your chest and abdomen measure your breathing. A clip on your finger monitors your heart rate and the level of oxygen in your blood. None of these devices are painful; we especially want our pediatric patients to know this prior to the study to reduce any anxiety they may have as well. They are all designed to be as comfortable as possible. The sensors may feel strange on your skin at first, and most people get used to them very quickly. They should not be an obstacle that keeps you from falling asleep. After everything is hooked up, you and your technician will do a test to make sure it is all in working order. Once it is all ready, you are free to read, watch TV, etc..  until your normal bedtime. Then the lights are turned out when you are ready to go to sleep.

How will I be able to sleep in a strange environment with all those wires on me?

This is the question that people ask most often before a sleep study. Many people expect the sleep center to be cold and harshly lit. They imagine that their room will be like a small closet, filled with computers and beeping machines.  Our sleep centers make you feel relaxed and comfortable. All of our rooms are nicely decorated and may remind you of a hotel. Some rooms also have showers, and hospital beds to accommodate your needs for comfort. It is quiet and peaceful, and most patients fall asleep quickly. It is expected that you might not sleep quite as well as you do at home, which is why many patients chose to bring a sleep aid. This should not hinder the study or affect the results.

What Happens During The Sleep Study?

The technologist will stay awake all night to monitor your sleep. He or she will be in a nearby tech room with the computers and equipment. You will be able to roll over and change sleeping positions as often as you like. The sensor wires are gathered together behind your head, similar to a ponytail, to give you the freedom to move in bed. A low-light video camera may also record your sleep for later review. This will allow your doctor to see any unusual movements or behavior that may occur during you sleep.

While you are sleeping, important brain and body functions are measured and recorded. This may reveal that you have a breathing problem during sleep. A common example of this kind of problem is obstructive sleep apnea. In this case, the technologist may awaken you at some point during the night and fit you with a mask (this is called a “split-night study”). There are a variety of different types of masks and your tech will fit you with the most appropriate and most comfortable mask we can find for you. The mask provides you with a steady stream of air that gently blows into the back of your throat. This treatment is called positive airway pressure (PAP). While there are three kinds of PAP, the most common uses a level of pressure that remains continuous (CPAP).

What if I need to go to the bathroom while I'm hooked up to all those wires?

This is actually a common and easy task. All you need to do is say out loud that you have to go to the bathroom, or sit up in your bed. The technologist who is monitoring your sleep will hear you or see that you are sitting up and need something. He or she will come in, simply and quickly unhook one wire from the box of wires and allow you to take them to the bathroom. All of the wires that are attached to you go into a central control box. The technologist will simply unplug the wires from the box and you will be free to get up. The sensors themselves do not need to be removed from your body. This makes it very easy to hook your wires back up when you return to bed. Most people have to get up at least once during the sleep study.

What Happens After My Sleep Study?

The analysis of a sleep study is a complex process. A typical sleep study produces about 1,000 pages of data. This information includes things such as brain waves, eye movements, and breathing patterns. It requires hours of work from a trained professional to accurately analyze the results. A sleep technologist processes or "scores" all of this data.  The final results are simply given to a doctor for further evaluation. We are an accredited sleep facility and our sleep physicians who read your study are board certified sleep specialists. The doctor will review the study to find out what kind of sleep problem you may have. Because of the detail and amount of time involved, it usually takes about two weeks for you to get the results. The doctor who ordered the study will discuss the results with you. If your primary care doctor ordered it, then the results are sent to him or her, and if you’re seeing a sleep specialist specifically, they will generally schedule a follow up apt after your study and go over the results and plans with you from there.


Your sleep does not have to be a mystery. Most importantly, we want to provide the most comfortable and relaxed environment for you to enjoy a good night’s sleep while gathering important data.  A sleep study is a reliable, scientific, and painless way to find out many sleep related issues you may be having, even if you do not feel that you have difficulty or problems with your sleep, it may be revealing of underlying illness that can adversely affect your health. It gives you valuable insight into the process of how you sleep. But it doesn't just give you understanding. It can also provide you with answers. With the results, a sleep specialist will be able to develop a plan of treatment to help you finally get the kind of sleep you want and need.

Thank you for choosing Rocky Mountain Sleep Disorders Center as your sleep testing facility!