What to expect during a sleep study?
March 6, 2021 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I have a sleep study and daytime wakefulness test coming up in a few days, and I’m wondering what to expect.

It’s at a well-regarded standalone sleep center, and their website just says I’ll be hooked up to monitors in a nice bedroom. Now that it’s the weekend, I can’t call to ask about the details.

So I’m wondering what it’s like to actually be there. What will I be doing between tests? Just sitting around, burning time? (I’m already planning to bring my Kindle and knitting.) Will I be able to do my regular yoga before bed and again when I wake up? Is it really as terrible, invasive, embarrassing, and boring as I expect?

I REALLY don’t want to go, but I’ve finally run out of excuses to put it off. We’re looking for a source for my truly debilitating daytime fatigue, pretty much every other other medical cause has been ruled out, and my doctors have been pleading with me to do this for years.

I welcome more information and anecdotes about your experiences. (also links to previous questions — I searched and didn’t find much that was relevant.)
posted by liet to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I did my last in-clinic sleep study a long time ago, so things may have changed a bit. But I remember they do a certain amount of checking in with you when you get there, then leave you alone for a while to do things until you are ready to go to sleep. Knitting and reading are fine, yoga might depend on your routine and how much space and props you need (if you use them). You might consider doing a cut down version of your routine, or doing any particularly active bits before you arrive.

At some point they will stick electrodes all over you, including on your head in your hair, so that's fun. When you are actually ready for bed, they'll put on various monitors and hook things up to them and you'll feel like there is no way you will sleep with all this stuff all over you, and that even if you do it will hardly be a typical sleep. You will probably sleep despite yourself, but don't expect it to be terribly restful.

In the morning, I would save your yoga routine for when you are home. Initially when you wake, you'll be hooked up to things which is not conducive to yoga, and then there will be the unhooking and getting you ready to leave. I would think it would be much easier to wait until you are back in your own space again. You could even use it to help you feel ready for sleep, since you will probably want a proper sleep in your own bed by that point.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:33 AM on March 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, also yes it's boring and tedious and no one's idea of a fun time, but I didn't find it hugely invasive.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:34 AM on March 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to clarify, the daytime wakefulness thing will be the entire day following the overnight stay, so I’ll be there for about 24 hours total.
posted by liet at 7:43 AM on March 6, 2021

Best answer: Seconding everything Athanassiel says from my own sleep study 3? 4? years ago. Although I did it in the sleep center of a large hospital so I didn't even get a "nice bedroom", I got a regular institutional white & linoleum hospital room with a hospital bed, couple of chairs and a small bedside table. And a separate bathroom with a door.

I didn't do a wakefulness thing afterwards, so I can't speak to that. Basically I showed up at the hospital about 9/10 pm, me & the sleep technician went through a brief questionnaire (the same one I went through in the initial consultation with a doctor), they gave me a bit to change, came in and stuck electrodes on me (torso and head), then left me alone. I browsed the web on my phone and read a book and eventually fell asleep.

I didn't find it particularly invasive or embarrassing at all. Slightly uncomfortable - all the wires and not a great bed - and boring.


Also, I think I got an email with final instructions & details 24 hours at most before my appointment, so hopefully you'll get some more info from the sleep center soon. I don't think there were any eating/drinking restrictions besides "please don't do any caffeine within the 12 hrs before you show up."
posted by soundguy99 at 8:03 AM on March 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another person chiming in to say that if a sleep disorder is causing your fatigue issues, you will feel SO MUCH BETTER once it's treated. Seriously. It makes a huge difference. The sleep study is annoying but it is totally worth it for the potential benefits.

I have done the sleep study but not the latency test. With respect to the sleep study: best to do what pre-bedtime prep you normally do at home, as much as possible, and then head over to the center. If you normally read yourself to sleep, or listen to whale noises on a noise machine, or anything else, bring that thing with you to use.

They will have a tech who will get you hooked up to all the wires. The one who worked with me was very kind and professional about it. None of it is painful. It's annoying just because of the number of wires involved, but it is possible to sleep through it.

If you use any prescription or non-prescription sleep aids, bring them with you but do not take them unless you are instructed to. If you're having trouble sleeping, you can ask the tech.

Bring a hat. You may want to head directly home without showering there and your hair will be a mess from the paste-y stuff they use to stick the electrodes on.

Make sure you bring any phone, Kindle, etc. chargers. I didn't need one for the sleep test but if they let you use the phone to kill time during the sleep latency test the next day, you may be using it a lot.
posted by pie ninja at 8:53 AM on March 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm SO GLAD I got my CPAP machine, and this is the way to get it.

However, my experience was that this was the worst night's sleep I ever had. I really hope I never have to go through that again. Make sure you get a prescription for sleep meds for that night, even if you don't normally use them. The wires etc are really fucking annoying, and it feels like you can't even move, if they have the leg electrodes on you. Bleah. But do it anyway. My sleep clinic had a shower, so I took one in the morning to get the glue out of my hair. It's basically like staying in a very spartan hotel, with Big Brother watching you all night.
posted by RedEmma at 9:47 AM on March 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am a PA and my area of practice is sleep medicine. Congratulations on taking this huge first step. I know it’s intimidating but that’s just because it’s the unknown. Sounds like you are going for an MSLT. They’re not invasive but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t boring during the daytime portion of it. Bringing your knitting and your kindle is a good idea. The rooms in our sleep lab (what a silly name right?) have televisions with all the channels and streaming services. If yours does not maybe bring a laptop? There will certainly be wifi.

As for embarrassing? Well, that is entirely subjective. People who work in sleep medicine are generally the easiest going people in medicine. Our sleep techs are incredibly kind and patient and a few of them are absolutely hilarious. Our patients love them.

You should be able to do your yoga but you will have to make accommodations for the wires.

I firmly believe you will do just fine!
posted by teamnap at 9:49 AM on March 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I was diagnosed with sleep apnea over a decade ago and a CPAP prescribed after I bumped into vehicles twice due to sleep deprivation. It did change my life.

Same experience as others. I was hooked up to a bunch of electrodes, including at least one on my ankle. I think they had me sleep an hour without a CPAP quite fitfully, then they woke me up, helped me put on a CPAP, and I went back to sleep, and they were able to "tune" it while I slept (much more soundly).
posted by kschang at 10:10 AM on March 6, 2021

Best answer: My experience was similar to the others. I wished in retrospect that I'd brought my own pillow, because I found the one they supplied really uncomfortable and felt like that probably affected my sleep quality too.

I actually kind of enjoyed it - it was a weird break from ordinary life, I got to see what I look like covered in wires, and at least at my place the food was surprisingly decent.
posted by trig at 10:46 AM on March 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One thing no one has mentioned is what do you do if you need to pee at night, in my case it was pretty trivial, I just buzzed for a tech and they unplugged the big mass of wires and let me do my thing and then plugged me back in. I really wasn't that bad and they put me at ease about it. (I had to pee like 3x that night and I barely slept and still it was amazing to get a diagnosis/have confirmation that yes my brain really was running all the damn time, I wasn't imagining that. And yes there are meds that can help me pass the eff out and reset)

Glad you are doing the study. Similar to others it really did help my quality of life and I got it brings you some answers.
posted by larthegreat at 11:24 AM on March 6, 2021

Best answer: A family member just did this. The thing she wasn't expecting was that during the day time part of the study, she was told to lie down and try to go to sleep at regular intervals. And then, sometimes just as she was getting into a deep phase of sleep, she got woken up again and had to sit up and try to be awake for a while. So she felt pretty lousy and sleep deprived by the end of the study. And as a bonus, they didn't find an explanation for her fatigue so all that fun was for nothing (except to get doctors to stop asking if she had had a sleep study done)
posted by metahawk at 2:45 PM on March 6, 2021

Best answer: Mine was basically a spartan but nice hotel room. Nothing fancy but the bed was decent, the sheets were clean, there was a TV with cable. The tech showed me in and let me hang out and settle in, then came back in to put the electrodes on and wire me up. I just hung out and watched baseball.

If I needed to pee I'd holler out and they were monitoring the room so they had a little speaker thing we could talk through. At some point they put a CPAP on me because my apnea was really bad. And a CPAP is life-changing, seriously.

Things I'd say as warning:
-If you need to go to the bathroom, they have to unhook you, so be ready for that to be a process and to take a minute. (I mean you're probably not going to be in a desperation situation, but it takes them a minute to get there and unhook you).
-I was absolutely wrecked the next day and basically went home and went to bed. Between the interruptions and suddenly having a CPAP to work on my sleep debt, a lot of it came due pretty hard. Don't plan to be productive.
-Mine did NOT have a shower so I had to go home and bathe and my head was covered with the goo they use for the electrodes until then. I stopped at Walgreen's for something and it was very definitely "this guy just got out the hospital" vibe-wise.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:58 PM on March 6, 2021

Best answer: The room was cold. That was lovely and made it easier to sleep.

There was a hard bedtime. I think it was 10 PM at that point it was lights out and no toys in bed, let alone anything with a screen that produces light.

Mine had a shower but no shampoo, you had to bring your own.

It took a surprisingly long time to get all the electrodes and things connected.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:34 PM on March 6, 2021

Response by poster: Very helpful, all — thanks! I’m glad I asked. I’ll let you know how it goes.

teamnap, you’re right, the daytime thing is an MSLT. I got the name wrong.
posted by liet at 7:58 PM on March 6, 2021



I was *so* resistant to the idea of a sleep study in case it showed I'd need a CPAP. Twenty-five years ago (or more), I had an acquaintance who needed to get one, and it was about the size of a Volkswagen and as loud as a Mack truck. I *did* need to get one; it's about the size of a Kleenex box, and whisper quiet. It's WONDERFUL not to wake up 51 times an hour any more!
posted by kate4914 at 8:20 PM on March 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had a successful sleep study last year, and this is how I did it. When being screened for testing, they thought that I had Narcolepsy.

1. I wasn't supposed to have caffeine after noon that day; I ended up not having any caffeine for at least a couple of days beforehand.

2. When I got in to start the sleep study, I chose to start the sleep study the earliest time that I could do, so that they'd get the best data. I ended up going to bed at 9:30 pm, with my favorite stuffie.

3. I was scheduled for the Multi Sleep Latency Test the next day as well, but in the morning, the doctor in charge explained that it wasn't necessary, because they got all the data that they needed. At the time I thought that I had screwed up the test somehow; that wasn't the case. So, don't be alarmed if that's the case with your sleep tests.

I was eventually diagnosed with Sleep Apnea, and yes - my CPAP with a good night's sleep makes a world of difference. They had COVID protocols down pat, as well.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:34 AM on March 7, 2021

Response by poster: Well, I’m back home. Thank you all so much — I was so much better prepared. Especially considering the clinic ended up never sending me anything other than that I should wear clothes to sleep in, not just underwear. Um, okay? (I’m sure previous unfortunate incidents prompted that instruction.)

The room ended up being like a spartan hotel room, like Ghostride The Whip’s experience.

It was really good to know that if they’d detected apnea overnight, they would have woken me up to try a CPAP. When they woke me up in the morning and they hadn’t, I admit I was a little relieved.

I forgot to turn off the alarm on my phone. I have a recurring alarm — it’s been 5 am every morning for ages and I never change it, so it was easy to forget. (I remembered to set the phone on vibrate, but the alarm plays anyway.) The tech was irritated. But apparently it didn’t screw up the test. I went back to sleep fast.

They left most of the overnight electrodes and sensors on all day. That meant I couldn’t change my clothes. I felt super gross.

I left my yoga mat at home, but it turned out I was able to practice in the morning. I managed on the carpet. The nurse said “you can do anything except stand on your head!” So no supine poses, backbends, etc., but sun salutations and standing poses were all good. It felt GREAT to move and breathe.

The MSLT was supremely boring. And they didn’t have WiFi.

They teased that I might be able to go home early, but I ended up staying the whole day. Apparently I’d have gone home if they detected REM sleep during the naps because it’d be a sign of narcolepsy, but since they weren’t sure about mine, they wanted all five naps for maximum data points.

There was a shower with shampoo and shower gel, but I decided to wait until I got home to clean up. I just washed the goop off my face and changed my clothes.

When it was all done, the nurse said the doctor’s report would probably be a diagnosis of idiopathic hypersomnia, which seems to me like the sleep medicine equivalent of “fuck if we know why you’re tired,” but I’m glad to have some kind of information.

Thanks again!
posted by liet at 8:54 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

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