Polysomnography in the Diagnosis of Sleep Disorders

Last updated: June 6, 2019

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

Diagnosing a sleep disorder is at least as important as its treatment. It is arguably even more important since the success of a treatment hinges on an accurately diagnosed sleep disorder. A sleep specialist will be unable to properly treat a disorder if he has no idea what he is treating.

This is why proper diagnostic tools are necessary for addressing any type of sleep disorder. One of the most useful diagnostic tools is polysomnography.

What is polysomnography?

Polysomnography (also known as a sleep study) is a test that doctors can use to diagnose sleep disorders. Polysomnography records a patient’s brain waves, heart rate, breathing, eye and leg movements, and oxygen levels in the blood.

A patient needing to undergo Polysomnography often does it within a hospital. During this test a sleep specialist records a patient’s sleep patterns. The test often requires an overnight stay at the hospital. However, sleep specialists can also do this during the day in order to accommodate shift workers who usually sleep during the day.

Aside from it being a diagnostic tool, a doctor can also use Polysomnography to adjust the treatment plan for a patient already diagnosed with a sleep disorder.

Why use Polysomnography?

Through the use of Polysomnography a doctor can monitor a patient’s sleep stages and cycles. A doctor can also use it to record sleep patterns and take note of disruptions and their causes.

A doctor may recommend Polysomnography if a patient is at risk of:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Periodic limb movement disorder
  • REM sleep behavior disorder
  • Unusual behaviors during sleep
  • Narcolepsy
  • Unexplained chronic insomnia

What happens during Polysomnography?

During a Polysomnography a sleep specialist or a medical technologist attaches sensors on the scalp of the patient. There will also be sensors on the patient’s temples, chest, and legs. These sensors have wires connected to a computer. The patient’s level of blood oxygen gets measured via a small clip placed on the finger or ear.

This test will measure the patient’s:

  • Brain waves
  • Breathing pattern
  • Heart rate
  • Body position
  • Eye movements
  • Blood oxygen level
  • Limb movement
  • Chest and abdominal movement
  • Snoring

Aside from monitoring the vitals listed above a technologist can also have the patient try a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine for sleep apnea. This is a way of testing if the use of a PAP machine can yield positive results on the patient.

During the procedure the technologist may also use EEG, EMG, and EKG as additional equipment that can help yield a more accurate diagnosis.

If a patient already has a diagnosis a sleep study is an opportunity for a sleep specialist to make necessary adjustments to ongoing treatment. This can help hasten the treatment.

Is this procedure safe?

Yes, Polysomnography is a safe non-invasive procedure. Even adolescents or children can safely undergo Polysomnography. Adults who undergo Polysomnography can immediately leave the center the morning after the test. Patients can return to their normal day-to-day activities after a Polysomnography.

The data gathered during the Polysomnography will need proper evaluation by a Polysomnography technologist. A sleep center doctor will then review the results and formulate an appropriate treatment plan.

A patient who underwent Polysomnography will have to return for a follow-up appointment during which the doctor will review the results with the patient. The doctor will then discuss any proposed treatment.

Although Polysomnography is non-invasive, it is likely that a patient getting it won’t sleep as well as he or she does at home. However, this won’t have any negative effects on the results. This is because the tests don’t require a full night’s rest for accurate results. In addition, a single night of uncomfortable sleep is but a small sacrifice in exchange for a successful treatment that might yield years of quality sleep.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

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