This guest post was written by Nick, a reader who has undergone 2 sleep studies.
A sleep study can be an effective way to diagnose some serious sleep disorders. But people often worry that their sleep problem just won’t show up in the sleep center.
It’s an understandably concern because they take place in an unfamiliar bed that’s not in your home. And there’s all manner of monitoring equipment hooked up to your body.
You’re also aware – by way of a video camera pointed at your bed – that someone is watching you sleep.
In both experiences, I think I did some things which may have lowered their effectiveness. So if you’re considering a sleep study, here’s my advice to give yourself the best chance of a successful outcome.
1. Wear yourself out
You probably won’t have to be at the sleep study facility until late in the evening, so you have the opportunity to have a full day of activities beforehand. Make the most of it!
Exercise, take a day trip, play with your kids, take your dog for a long walk – do as much physical activity as you can. Stimulate your mind as well, be it with games, puzzles, work, organizational activities, etc.
Just make sure you’re working your mental and physical muscles. This will make it much easier to sleep when you get to the facility.
2. Take the next day off
One of the worst ways to keep yourself from sleeping is stressing out about not being able to complete tomorrow’s tasks because you didn’t get enough sleep.
The first time I had a sleep study done, I had another doctor’s appointment the next morning at 8 a.m. and I went to the study stressed out about how long it would take me to get up, get ready, and make the other appointment on time.
The second study, I had to work the next morning in a job I’d only had for about three weeks. I stressed out about how long I’d need to get there and what would happen if I was too tired to work effectively. Bad idea.
Either take the next day off from work or simply schedule the study on a night where you have no important commitments the next morning.
3. Bring your home comforts
The information pack you get for the study will recommend that you bring a favorite pillow or blanket; I didn’t do either of those things and wish I had.
Your bedroom for the evening might be the equivalent of a moderate hotel room or college dormitory, probably with very basic furnishings and decoration.
So bring your pillows and blankets. Bring photos of your family. Bring a white noise machine, your phone or music player, tablet or anything else that will remind you of home and let you add that level of comfort.
4. 20 questions
The sleep facility staff see lots of patients every day, and even the best of them tend to get locked into a routine. So don’t be shy – ask every question that pops into your head about the facility, the procedure and the equipment being used.
If something doesn’t feel right, bring it up. If something isn’t comfortable, let them know.
Your insurance company might ultimately be the one footing the bill, but you’re the one paying the premiums. For the duration of the night, these staff members are working for you – be satisfied with what’s going on.
5. Mental toughness
I vividly remember my first sleep study as the technician hooked me up with the test equipment: diodes on my chest; an oxygen meter on my finger; bands around my stomach; sensors on my eyelids and attached to my scalp with an odd shampoo/glue mixture; and a large monitor that I was to wear on a strap around my neck as I slept.
When I first caught sight of myself in the mirror, I looked like I was straight out of a science fiction movie. There’s absolutely nothing natural or comfortable about the monitoring equipment used in a sleep study. But knowing it’s coming can go a long way towards getting ready for it.
Think of all the unnatural positions you’ve slept in during your life – in a car, on an airplane, holding a sick child in the middle of the night. Our bodies are remarkable at their ability to adapt.
Once you’ve convinced yourself that these instruments are necessary parts of your environment, you can accept them and get to sleep.
6. Go to sleep when you’re ready
This was a big one for me in both of my sleep studies. During the time of the first study, I wasn’t going to bed until or 2 or 3 a.m., but was told to go to sleep at 10 p.m.
I lay in the bed not sleeping and getting more and more agitated for hours before finally getting maybe three hours of sleep.
The second time around they told me the same thing, and added that when I had been asleep for a while, they were going to come put a CPAP mask on me to see how I did with it.
I responded that if anyone tried to put a mask on my face while I was sleeping, I might wake up in a very bad mood. And as a result, I stayed up watching TV until about 1:30 a.m. and then slept restlessly for about four hours.
Don’t stray from your routine if it means going to bed well before you naturally would do. If you watch a couple of late night talk shows before you hit the hay, do it here too. If you read until midnight, read until midnight. A real representation of your sleep will present a true diagnosis.
7. Ask about a home study
In the past few years, some doctors and facilities have begun offering a device that allows patients to undertake a sleep study in their own home.
It’s not used for every suspected sleep disorder, but it might be good to ask if it can be used in your case. The home device is far less restrictive, and allows for a more realistic study of a typical night’s sleep, since it’s done in your home and in your bed.
Sleep studies can be sources of great stress if you let them be. But proper preparation and the right attitude going in can make it much less stressful.
And then the medical professionals can hopefully glean all the necessary information that will allow doctors to help you sleep easier and healthier for all the nights to come.