Sleep apnea

Home-based sleep studies: An alternative to in-lab diagnosis



By Gina Roberts-Grey


Sleep studies, the diagnostic tool used to diagnose sleep apnea, traditionally have been performed in clinical settings that were clean and sterile but also cold and uncomfortable, making it difficult for patients to sleep.


Today, however, a number of clinics have transformed sleep study bedrooms into accommodations to rival five-star resorts. “They’re often furnished with high-quality bedding, warm and homey furniture and décor, private bathrooms and minimal hospital equipment in the room,” said Lauri Leadley, a sleep expert and president of Valley Sleep Center in Arizona. Many also offer amenities such as Wi-Fi and in-room televisions.


But despite the room upgrades, many patients still find it difficult to sleep outside of their home environment, making it a challenge to perform an accurate sleep study, or they simply prefer the convenience of conducting a sleep test at home.


“Home sleep tests are an option when a patient is suspected of having sleep apnea and doesn’t have other issues such as congestive heart failure, lung disease or other sleep disorders,” Leadley said. Home sleep tests are not designed to diagnose any other sleep disorder than sleep apnea.


Home sleep tests are growing in popularity, and sleep experts aren’t surprised. Sleep clinics use various monitors and other medical equipment, including sensors attached to all different parts of the body to measure heart rate and brain activity. Testing at home is different.


“Tests performed at home are done in your own bed, and generally require only a few monitors and straps,” Leadley said. The home test “gear” often consists of a sensor that slips over the index finger to measure oxygen levels and another set of sensors strapped to the patient’s chest to measure breathing patterns. A small tube is placed in the nostrils to measure the amount of air the patient breathes through his or her nose.


However, the lack of gadgetry reduces the depth of the study. And a home sleep test only measures; it doesn’t offer a diagnosis. “It is merely a means for the patient to get tested at home instead of having to spend the night in a clinic. The patient has to take the device back to the sleep clinic the next day to be read by sleep medicine physician, who reads and interprets the data,” Leadley said.


If you think you might have sleep apnea, take this simple quiz. Then see your doctor to determine whether you need to be tested, either at a sleep clinic or at home.


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