How is sleep apnea diagnosed?
A doctor will have to consider a patient’s signs and symptoms and their sleep history to diagnose sleep apnea. The doctor will require interviews to check your lifestyle and sleeping habits. Often, family members who sleep beside you will also have to supplement the information you shared with your doctor.
The doctor may also refer you to more diagnoses and testing at a sleep disorder center. A sleep specialist will assist you in this type of clinic and determine if you need more evaluation. You may have to sleep at a sleep disorder center overnight to monitor breathing and other body functions. Medical professionals may also recommend home sleep testing.
Signs You Might Have Sleep Apnea
Some signs that you might have this disorder are:
- Loud or irregular snoring patterns at night time and gasping for air while sleeping
- Your bed partner has noticed that you stop breathing during your sleep period regularly
- Waking up gasping or choking at night time.
- You frequently wake up in the morning with headaches, dry mouth, or sore throat, which lasts all day long because of lack of oxygen reaching your brain when needed most-when you were asleep.
- Feel very sleepy during waking hours but don’t know why
- You tend to be more irritable than normal and somewhat depressed without knowing why during waking hours.
Here are common ways to detect sleep apnea.
This method involves equipment that monitors your vital signs while sleeping. Polysomnography is comprehensive and records your brain waves, the oxygen level in your blood, heart rate, and breathing. This process will also monitor your eye and leg movements. Doctors conduct this test either in a hospital or at a sleep center, mostly at night. Although, occasionally, sleep doctors will run this in the daytime among shift workers who work on a graveyard shift and sleep during the day.
Some patients may have to come back for another round of polysomnography to help initiate or adjust treatment plans for sleeping disorders.
With the use of test devices, nocturnal polysomnography monitors your sleep stages and cycles. The devices will help determine your sleeping patterns and possible disruptions that happen while you are asleep.
Patients will have to undergo polysomnography if the doctor suspects the presence of sleep apnea and other sleep-related breathing or movement disorders.
What to do before taking nocturnal polysomnography?
Patients usually have to refrain from taking alcoholic drinks or food that has caffeine a few hours before the test. Thus, patients should start avoiding alcohol and caffeine in the afternoon and evening before the nocturnal polysomnography to minimize symptoms of sleep disorders.
Doctors may also discourage patients from taking afternoon naps even if these have become part of their daily routine. Patients can bathe or shower before sleep but should not use lotions, gels, colognes, or makeups that may obstruct the scientific recording using electrodes.
Nocturnal polysomnography can also take place at home. In this arrangement, the sleep clinic will deliver the equipment to the patient’s house. The patient also can pick up any equipment at the doctor’s clinic but may have to listen to a set of instructions on how to use them.
What to expect during polysomnography?
In a sleep center, the patient has to bring their toiletries, nightclothes, and other things that they use before bedtime. A doctor will assist them in putting the electrodes on their body.
In a home sleep apnea test, patients have to put on the equipment and turn on the machine attached to them based on the doctor’s instructions. Patients need to sleep in their regular sleeping hours and will have to keep a sleep log.
The room must have the right conditions to encourage sleep. Patients have to keep it dark and quiet and with no disturbance from other roommates. It should be a room with a bathroom. Doctors will install a low-light video camera and an audio system before the test to properly observe a patient’s behavior and possible sounds while they are asleep.
Home sleep tests
Home sleep tests are more simplified tests that doctors recommend in diagnosing sleep apnea.
It is an easy, cost-effective way to determine your breathing, oxygen levels, and breathing effort. Home sleep tests have limitations and may not fully capture comprehensive results that nocturnal polysomnography can record. Also, in polysomnography, a sleep technologist will be present in the room to capture the patient’s brainwaves for sleep, muscle tone, and leg movement. One cannot capture these aspects in at-home sleep tests.
Here are more facts about home sleep tests for sleep apnea.
These tests will focus on your breathing, not actual sleep.
Home sleep tests focus on the patient’s breathing patterns, the pauses, the instances when the patient is not breathing, and the effort a patient gives to breathe. This method will also determine if one is experiencing shallow breathing during sleep. Doctors who conducted this test will not analyze whether the patient is engaged in light or deep sleep.
One cannot do it without a doctor’s prescription.
Despite its simplicity, home sleep tests will not take place without a doctor’s prescription. It is not an over-the-counter test and can only take place with the order from a primary care physician or a physician at a sleep clinic.
It requires sensors to determine the patient’s breathing patterns.
There are simple equipment that patients should use wear before taking the home sleep test. They should put on sensors such as a small probe on their finger to measure oxygen levels. Patients will have to wear a mask with tubes. This device is similar to an oxygen mask with its mask with tubes that one should put into the nostrils and then secure the device around the ears. Patients also need to wear sensors on the abdomen and chest to determine body movements while breathing.
It is cheap and convenient.
Sleep doctors usually conduct at-home sleep tests only for one night. This short duration makes the test less expensive than other sleep apnea methods. Moreover, you can run this test in the comfort of your room. The familiar settings may help give a more accurate reading of your sleeping pattern.
It may serve as a preliminary test that may lead to other sleep tests based on the doctor’s recommendations.
Home sleep tests do not provide comprehensive results of a patient’s sleeping patterns and behavior. With this, doctors may have to use its results as initial findings as a basis for more comprehensive in-lab tests. There are instances when results of home tests may be inaccurate, and thus, doctors need to place the patient in an in-lab test with the close supervision of an on-site physician.
Home tests cannot determine other sleeping problems.
Because home tests only capture breathing troubles, they cannot determine other sleep issues that will not affect one’s breathing patterns and airways. Doctors cannot determine the presence of restlessness, narcolepsy, and other movement disorders that may disrupt sleep.