How does a sleep study work?

All of the wires I was hooked up to in my sleep study.

Thursday night and all day Friday, I embarked on a sleep study. It’s been a very different and maddening experience. What is exactly do you do during a sleep study? Let me explain:

  • Thursday night I arrived that the Sleep Clinic. They checked in me in and gave me a quick survey (“Was today a normal or abnormal day?” I told them I worked in advertising and there was nothing normal about it and “What’s the last time you ate?”)
  • They showed me to my room. It was just like a hotel room, but with lots of weird gadgets.
  • After I took out my contacts and went to the restroom, they started to wire me up. They attached about 50 different wires and sensors to my body. Some of them:
    • Brain sensors to see how I was sleeping (much like a Zeo).
    • Microphones to see if I snore (I didn’t).
    • Sensors on my face to capture rapid eye movement (REM), if your eyes are open and tension in my face (when you enter REM sleep, the muscles in your face completely relax).
    • Tubes in my nose to make sure that I’m breathing.
    • Sensors across my chest to measure my heart rate.
    • Sensors on my leg to measure restless leg syndrome (I didn’t have that).
    • There was also a camera and a movement sensor installed in my room.
  • While I was being wired up, I had the opportunity to chat with the sleep technician (as my girlfriend would say, “Always making friends!”). Here’s what we discussed:
    • I asked if most everyone that came in was overweight. She said yes, they are very overweight. Most of them have sleep apnea (not breathing properly during sleep).
    • She said that obesity and sleep is a vicious cycle: Being overweight gives you sleep apnea (most of the time), having sleep apnea makes you very drowsy and tired since your body can’t get rest and then you have no energy to work out. When your body is tired you also tend to eat worse – to get cheap calories to keep your brain working.
    • She told me that you don’t have to be overweight to have sleep apnea, but most of her patients were overweight. She said that she’s seen some very skinny with sleep apnea, but it’s just the way they were born that way (insert Lady Gaga song here).
    • She said to be very skeptical of doctors wanting to do surgery to fix sleep apnea. Usually a CPAP machine can help and the doctors want the extra money (not my doctor, she said that he was very honest).
  • Anyway, after I was wired up they ran of series of test (blink your eyes five times, etc.) to make sure the monitoring equipment was working properly.
  • I didn’t sleep very much the night before, so I was able to get to sleep about 15 – 20 minutes later (pretty typical for me).
  • I woke up at about 2:15 a.m. and needed to used the restroom (I should of thought about that). I simply said out loud, “Hey, can I get unhooked to use the restroom?” and the techs came and un-did me (they have microphones going all the time, so it’s easy to hear).
  • They woke me up at 6 a.m.

All wired up for my Sleep Study!

For most people, this is where the sleep study ends. They unhook you and the doctor reviews the sleep study. But for people with different sleep issues, they do a Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) study, which means that they need to test your sleepiness throughout the day. I slept for about 8 total hours the night before, but didn’t feel rested (maybe it was all of the electrodes attached to my body). I was really tired. This is where the madness (AKA MSLT) comes in:

  • Every two hours they tell you to go to sleep again (7:30, 9:30, 11:30, 1:30 and 3:30).
  • They give you 15 – 20 minutes to go back to sleep and then wake you up.
  • The first two times I was in the middle of falling back into sleep when I was woken up (I honestly, don’t know – I was in that weird state of falling asleep).
  • If you’ve ever been woken up as you’ve been falling to sleep, you should have some reference to what I’m talking about. That made me even more tired.
  • You are not allowed to sleep during the two hours. I already didn’t sleep well the night before and now I’ve been woken up against my will – over and over again.
  • I was able to fall asleep on my next three naps, only to be woken up again.
In short, I can see how sleep deprivation would make you go crazy by taking one of these sleep studies. I’ll know my results in the next week or so. I was looking forward to a nice, relaxing day of sleeping all day – but it ended up being a bit maddening.