Scary sleep tests.
March 20, 2008 4:08 AM   Subscribe

I may have hypersomnia, and may be going to get help soonish, because it's starting to get out of control. But! What's holding me back from going for a checkup is that I'm terrified that I may have to go through a barrage of tests that would seem at home in a horror movie. What tests can I expect to be faced with?
posted by Xere to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
heh, can we share? i have terrible insomnia.

you'll probably be interviewed by a neurologist, who will do some basic coordination tests (like a sobriety test a police officer might give you) just to rule out brain damage. you might get some blood tests to rule out any ailments that might be causing sleepiness (checking your thyroid levels, etc.). the thing you are probably scared about is the sleep study. i haven't had one, but my sister has. basically, they just tape little electrodes to you and film you while you sleep. they aren't needles or anything, just tiny flexible wires in contact with your skin. that's because your brain goes through phases while you sleep and emit different electrical patterns. doctors use those patterns to determine what phase of sleep you're in and how long it lasts. you might have a phase disorder (getting too much or too little of one phase or another), or just very long intervals between phases, which my sister has (we're a very sleep-disordered family).

i suppose you might have a cat scan of your brain, if the doctor wants to rule out a tumor or clot.

these are all routine and while annoying, not frightening or painful.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:29 AM on March 20, 2008

Hypersomnia may result from a variety of psychological, neurological or physical problems. Testing is important to determine the specific cause, which in turn will dictate treatment. The first thing you will be asked to do is to fill out a set of forms detailing your sleep habits and history, and information about your health, history and lifestyle which might indicate the cause. You may be asked to monitor your own sleep (keep a log of sleep and wake times and other information). You might be asked to spend a night in a sleep center (which just ensures sleep under controlled circumstances) and to take some tests the next day. At worst, these tests will involve you being asked to sleep while attached to an electroencephalograph (EEG). This is not painful in any way. I have personally had it done on several occasions (for reasons other than testing for hypersomnia). IANAMD but I don't think anything you would be asked to do in pursuit of a diagnosis would be painful or scary, though some (like filling out lots of forms, or keeping logs) may be boring or tedious.
posted by ubiquity at 4:30 AM on March 20, 2008

What part of the idea of tests worries you?

Well, the most "horror movie-"esque test I can think of would be a sleep study. I've been through one, and it wasn't that bad. Basically I went to the local teaching hospital one evening, got wired up for an EEG. This part is annoying and slightly uncomfortable. They use some kind of pumice to scrub small areas of your scalp, put some kind of conductive jelly on each of them, and then glue wires to your scalp. You do end up looking a bit like Medusa, but I liked that. The wires are attached to a rolling stand, so you can walk around if you need to. You shouldn't need to, except to go to the bathroom, because they time this so that it's bedtime when you're done getting the EEG wires hooked up.

Then you go to bed. There's a camera in your room, and they'll be looking at your brainwaves as you sleep, as well as noting what it is you are doing in your sleep. You'll try to sleep, it will be hard to, and then they'll wake you up in the morning when you're done. They'll rub your head with acetone to get the glue off, and you're free to go.

EEGs aren't that bad. In fact, I think they're kinda cool. I've had about 6 of them throughout my adult years (seizure disorder), though, so maybe I'm just used to it.
posted by Stewriffic at 4:39 AM on March 20, 2008

I haven't been through a sleep study, but I have been through a barrage of other medical tests and surgeries and I am one of the most anxious people I know. The best advice I can give you, if you are anxious, is to learn to meditate. There are gazillions of meditation podcasts on the Web and audio CDs available at your local bookstore - just pick one and learn how to visualize pleasant things. From what people have posted above, sleep studies don't sound painful at all, but meditation can get you through all kinds of "horrific" things.

The other advice I'd give you is to ask your doctors a million questions about what's going to happen. Ask the nurse "now what are you doing with that thing? why are you putting it on my arm?" etc. 95% of medical staff (in my experience) are patient and accommodating to these questions, and they will relieve you of the anxiety of not knowing what happens next or why it is happening.

With regards to a CAT scan or MRI: I have found a mantra to be very useful here. You can say the Lord's Prayer, Om Mani Padme Hum, or Peanut Butter Jelly Time - it doesn't matter. What matters is your focus on the mantra rather than on what's going on, and the time will pass very quickly with little anxiety.
posted by desjardins at 6:04 AM on March 20, 2008

If they do send you for a sleep study (I've had two), try to schedule things so you don't have to work the next day. As Stewriffic said, it will be hard to sleep and you'll be really tired the following day.
posted by shiny blue object at 6:09 AM on March 20, 2008

Just came in to echo the other opinions that a sleep study is a little creepy but not that bad. Somehow, even though you will swear you can't possibly sleep in that getup, you will and they will get what they need.
posted by cabingirl at 8:45 AM on March 20, 2008

If you do decide to meditate while doing any of these tests, let your doctor know ahead of time that that's your plan. I'm not sure how much it would matter for an amateur meditator, but people who have been practicing meditation for a long time definitely alter their brain waves as they are meditating. If you're meditating to avoid freaking out about getting blood drawn or something, that wouldn't be a problem. But if they're specifically looking at your brain activity through an EEG (or possibly even an fMRI?), they might not want you doing anything intentional to change your brain patterns.
posted by vytae at 8:48 AM on March 20, 2008

I've been through a couple of sleep studies, they're not that bad. Best advice I can give is (if they don't offer) ask for a tv, so you can watch something while they wire you up. My first study I watched 'Johnny Mnemonic' while getting wired, and the combo made both activities more tolerable...
posted by pupdog at 9:14 AM on March 20, 2008

A sleep study is nothing to worry about. The worst parts are just getting a crappy night's sleep and then having your hair look really bad the next morning once they take the electrodes off. Bring a hat or something to cover your head on the way out of the center, and plan to take the day off from work the next day.
posted by Enroute at 9:17 AM on March 20, 2008

I've also been through a sleep study and it wasn't bad - similar to the experiences of the other posters.

Basically, I went to the doctor and said "I fall asleep at my desk every single day at work, sometimes while driving, and I nap a lot." They sent me to a neurologist who had me track my sleeping and eating habits for a week or so, and then I came in for the sleep study.

Based on my experience, they may keep you all night as well as most of the following day depending on what they find. Most of the people there had apnea or something else that was evident during the night, and they were sent home in the morning. One other girl and I slept just fine, and had to stay the next day, hang out and watch TV in our pajamas, and try to take a nap every 2 hours until about 4:00.

That was it - I went home and spend a half hour trying to get the crap out of my hair from where they attached the stuff. A week or so later I went in and got my diagnosis of narcolepsy and some nice happy pills and sleep advice that have made my life much better.
posted by thejanna at 10:44 AM on March 20, 2008

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