What Happens in a Sleep Study?

February 15, 2023

What Happens in a Sleep Study?

More than 70 million people in the United States alone suffer from one or more chronic sleep issues. Whether it be from mental health, injury, life-altering diseases, or poor quality of life, sleep disorders affect many parts of a person’s life, leaving them to feel exhausted and unable to maintain daily activities, such as going to work, or keeping up with chores around the home.

In an effort to reduce the effects of chronic sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy, experts have joined together to conduct a sleep study to improve the quality of life of each person. You may find yourself wondering, “Why do I need a sleep study?” We have outlined below what a sleep study is, its importance, and what this comprehensive test can tell you.

What is a Sleep Study?

A sleep study, medically referred to as polysomnography, is a comprehensive testing tool designed to monitor a patient, diagnose sleep disorders, and aid in perfecting a treatment plan. A sleep study is routinely performed in a hospital or sleep center; however, these tests are offered in an at-home testing kit.

A sleep study is most often conducted at night when a person is typically asleep. However, many people, such as shift workers, find themselves sleeping during daytime hours. In these cases, a sleep study is performed during normal “awake” hours.

As a non-invasive examination, a sleep study is able to monitor and record brainwaves, blood oxygen levels, breathing rate and pattern, heart rate, eye movement, and frequent leg movements to better understand what part of the sleep cycle, including REM sleep and non REM sleep, is disrupted and why.

What are the Types of Sleep Studies Commonly Performed?

A sleep study may be conducted within the comfort of your own bed without a technician’s observation, or in a sleep center where a medical professional is able to watch over and monitor you as you sleep. Sleep studies allow professionals to gather data to determine why your sleep is being disrupted, provide a diagnosis when applicable, and allow a course of action to be created to help you sleep better.

Of the many testing options, the most commonly performed sleep studies include:


Polysomnography is among the most commonly performed sleep study examinations. This type of sleep study is conducted in a sleep center, typically overnight, where the patient is monitored throughout the night by a trained professional.

Polysomnography allows a technician to monitor:

  • Brain activity through brainwaves
  • Eye movement
  • Sleep position
  • Muscle activity
  • Respiratory effort and rate
  • Heart rate
  • Blood oxygen levels
  • Snoring

Multiple Sleep Latency Test

MSL testing is a sleep test designed to measure how quickly a person is able to fall asleep, and enter REM sleep during a daytime nap. REM sleep is one of many sleep stages in which the brain becomes more active, and dreams take place. Multiple sleep latency testing is used to diagnose sleep disorders affecting daytime sleepiness as a result of narcolepsy, idiopathic hypersomnia, or other issues.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Titration

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) titration is important as each patient requires a different amount of air forced into their lungs to maintain adequate respirations and tidal volume. CPAP titration testing allows medical professionals to determine the right amount of pressure needed in a sleep lab, so they are able to maintain proper levels at home. This sleep study generally requires a follow-up appointment to ensure efficiency.

Home Sleep Apnea Testing

Home sleep apnea testing allows a person to assess the possibility of abnormal sleep behaviors in the comfort of their home without having to conduct an overnight sleep study in a hospital or sleep clinic. It is important to note that an at-home sleep apnea test kit will provide far less information than a test conducted by a sleep specialist.

What are the Reasons Sleep Studies are Conducted?

A healthy sleep cycle begins with NREM sleep, or non-rapid eye movement. During this sleep stage, the brain begins to slow down, resulting in slowed breathing, a decreased heart rate, and overall decreased body functions.

After roughly two hours, the body enters into the next sleep cycle, known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During this stage, the brain becomes more active, eye movements increase, leg movements increase, and dreams begin to occur.

Sleep disorders disturb the ability of a person to receive a full night’s sleep, resulting in excessive daytime sleepiness. A sleep study may be performed in sleep centers if your physician suspects sleep disorders, including:

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea results in breathing periodically starting and stopping. Sleep apnea can become deadly if left untreated, as a person may not restart breathing after experiencing a brief pause.

Periodic Limb Movement

Periodic limb movement disorder in which a person experiences involuntary limb movements.


Narcolepsy, a common sleep disorder resulting in daytime sleepiness, and sudden sleep attacks.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

REM sleep behavior disorder is classified as a person acting out the dreams they are experiencing. REM sleep behavior disorders can be dangerous, as a person does not know what they are doing.

Unusual Movements

Unusual movements, such as sleepwalking, excessive moving, or other various movements.

Chronic Insomnia

Chronic insomnia is defined as extreme difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep. When a person’s ability to fall asleep is disrupted, it affects many areas of their life, including their physical and mental health.

What are the Benefits of a Sleep Study?

Many people believe their life cannot be greatly affected by losing out on a few hours of sleep each night, however, your overall health is dependent on a full night of sleep, as your brain is able to rest, relax, and reset throughout the night. A sleep study holds many benefits, including determining the cause of sleep disturbances, and allowing for a treatment plan to be formed to achieve better sleep.

Health Effects

Sleep disorders leave a person at risk of experiencing:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Obesity
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • An increased risk of accidents
  • Headaches

Mental Health Effects

Sleep disorders not only affect a person’s daily life, they greatly impact the mental health of a person in many ways, including:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • A decreased sex drive
  • Poor work performance
  • Difficulty concentrating

Undergoing a sleep study can help to combat the above-mentioned risk factors allowing you to live a full, satisfying life without disturbances.

How do I Prepare for a Sleep Study?

Before undergoing an overnight sleep study, a patient must ensure they are well prepared for the test. On the day of your appointment, it is important that you maintain your daily routine and regular diet, as a sleep study should be based upon your “normal” routine and sleep habits. While it is recommended to stick to your normal routine as best as possible, there are a few things to consider in preparing for a sleep study.

Avoid Caffeine

Your arrival time for a sleep study will likely be in the evening, as most sleep studies are conducted overnight, unless otherwise directed by your doctor. Coffee with breakfast is okay, however, caffeine should be avoided after lunchtime. This is a tip that should be taken into your daily life, as well in an effort to help you sleep better.

Experts recommend limiting your intake of coffee, soda, chocolate, tea, or other forms of caffeine or excessive sugar.

Avoid Alcohol

Do you enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine with dinner? Experts report that the intake of alcohol, even in small amounts, can interfere with your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Doctors strongly recommend avoiding alcohol on the day of your appointment for the best results.

Have Clean Hair

Experts report hair gel, hair spray, or other hair products may interfere with the ability of the electrodes to maintain a proper grip once placed. It is recommended to arrive at your appointment with clean, dry hair free from any gel or styling products.

What Happens During a Sleep Study?

Undergoing a sleep study can be overwhelming and often scary for people experiencing them for the first time, as you are surrounded by professionals, and expected to sleep in a strange environment. Although you will (hopefully) be asleep the majority of the time you are at the clinic, it is important to understand what is going on around you.


Upon arrival at the clinic, you will be instructed to sign in at the front desk, fill out routine paperwork and consent forms, provide your health insurance card if needed, and pay your copay if applicable.

Once your information has been inputted, and you are successfully checked in, a sleep technician will accompany you to the room in which you will be sleeping during the test. You will be shown your private bathroom, where to put your belongings, instructed to change into comfortable attire, and left to settle in.

After you have conducted your nightly routine, and are ready to lie down, the sleep technician will spend approximately 1 hour applying the EEG leads and various monitors needed to conduct the study. All wires, leads, and electrodes are connected to a portable box allowing you to get up and go to the restroom as needed throughout the night.

Once you have been hooked up to all machines, the sleep technician will leave you to rest, relax, read a book, or watch TV, allowing you to wind down as you normally would after a long day. It is important that you maintain your normal routine, even in a strange environment.

During the Sleep Study

One common test conducted during a sleep study is an electroencephalogram designed to monitor the activity in your brain. For this test, the sleep technician will apply a small amount of paste in various spots on your head, and attach an electrode to each spot.

As you sleep, the electrodes connected to you will constantly monitor various aspects, including breathing rate, heart rate, movement, sleep stages, and more. You will be monitored closely while not being disturbed, unless life-threatening effects occur as a result of a sleep disorder.

If you find yourself tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep, your doctor can prescribe a sleep aid that will not interfere with the various tests being performed. It is important that you only take a sleep aid given to you by your medical provider, so as not to disrupt or give false test results.

As a last resort, if you are unable to sleep, the test can be repeated at a later date to ensure accuracy and valid testing results.

After the Sleep Test has Been Completed

Once the test has been completed, the technician will wake you at your normal waking hour. If you normally wake at 6 am, you will be woken at 6 am following your study. All electrodes will be removed, the paste will be wiped away, and you will then be able to shower and get ready for your day, if you wish to do so in the clinic. You will be allowed to eat breakfast, have coffee or water, and take your normal medications.

Eco Terra's Commitment to Better Sleep

Eco Terra Beds is committed to providing customers with a safe, comfortable sleep space night after night. In an effort to accomplish this, our team of experts has handcrafted hybrid latex mattresses with more comfort and support than the leading competitors.

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We proudly serve many areas around the United States with fast, free shipping and unmatched product quality. Whether it be sleeping or lounging, you spend several hours in bed - why not ensure you are spending time in a space that is safe for your overall health? It is more important than ever to care for yourself, including ensuring proper support as you sleep to reduce aches, pains, and other symptoms associated with common sleep disorders.

At Eco Terra, we look forward to helping you on your journey to finding the best bed to fit your needs. A customer service agent is available to answer any questions you may have, as well as help you in choosing the right mattress.

Patrick Gunther

Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has been in the retail mattress space for the past 13 years, and more specifically in the natural mattress niche. He blogs on the subjects of natural mattresses, sleep, health, fitness, and green living.