Understanding a Sleep Lab Study

Countless Americans suffer from serious sleep disorders requiring medical intervention. But to accurately diagnose a specific sleep disorder, it may be recommended that a patient first undergo a series of sleep studies. Sleep studies are tests conducted in a controlled environment that record various vitals while in a sleep state.

In addition to diagnosing a sleep disorder, sleep studies can also determine whether a person has a problem with specific stages of sleep. The two stages of sleep are non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). Normally, these two cycles alternate four to five times during a night of sleep; if there is a notable change in or disruption of the cycle, an individual may wake up feeling as though they haven’t slept.

At Methodist McKinney Hospital (MMH), sleep studies are performed at the sleep lab seven nights a week. Kenberlea Atkinson, the marketing manager at the lab, explains the basic elements of a sleep lab study include:

• EEG (electroencephalogram) monitoring: measures and records brain wave activity
• EMG (electromyogram) monitoring: records muscle activity, such as face twitches, teeth grinding and leg movement; also helps determine the presence of REM sleep
• SaO2 monitoring: monitors breathing abnormalities during sleep, in addition to the level of oxygen present in the blood
• Airflow and air pressure monitoring

Patients arriving at MMH for a sleep study are shown to a private room that includes a queen bed, a night stand and a color television. Once settled, the assigned sleep technologist will take some measurements and begin the procedure.

Electrodes and sensors are placed on the head and face that will pick up specific electrical currents to show brain waves, eye reflections and muscle tension; special sensors are then placed under the nose and near the mouth to monitor breathing patterns, while belts that are placed on the chest and abdomen will show how much effort is used to breathe. Additional electrodes are placed to pick up the heart rhythm, a finger sensor shows the pulse rate and oxygen levels and, lastly, sensors on the legs show muscle tension and leg movement, if present.

Atkinson explains that while most patients are concerned about not sleeping normally with all of the sensors in place, all wires, electrodes and sensors are securely attached and bundled in a way that will not disturb the normal sleep pattern.

Once the study begins, patients may watch television until it is time to go to bed, but not while sleeping, and cell phones are not permitted at all. The patient is able to use the restroom if needed during the test and will also be able to change sleeping positions throughout the night.

According to Atkinson, what makes the MMH sleep lab program unique is the comprehensive treatment approach. A patient is not just given a diagnosis and then sent home. Instead, a relationship is established with the patient and sleep lab staff continue working with them, even after the study is complete, to ensure they complete a successful treatment program.

If you would like to schedule a consultation at the Methodist McKinney Hospital sleep lab, please call 972-569-2700.

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