Your sleep apnea test: What to expect

Is a sleep apnea test in your future? Maybe you’ve been experiencing some of the signs of sleep apnea like excessive snoring or nighttime restlessness, or maybe you’re not feeling as energetic and refreshed as you used to during the day.

Remember, you don’t have to struggle with symptoms like this. If you’re experiencing them, talk to your doctor. You’ll likely be scheduled for a sleep apnea test to determine whether you have a form of sleep-disordered breathing.

What can you expect from a sleep apnea test? There are two basic options: at-home testing and an overnight stay at a sleep lab (also known as a sleep center, or sleep testing facility). Your doctor will help you decide which type of sleep apnea test is best for you.

Taking a sleep apnea test at a sleep lab or facility

The traditional way to take a sleep apnea test is by an overnight stay at a sleep lab. Also called a polysomnography test (PSG), this “in-lab” sleep apnea test option requires spending the night in a sleep facility. They’re sometimes located within a larger hospital or medical center, and sometimes in their own stand-alone facilities.

What happens at a sleep lab, exactly? Sensors that monitor bodily functions like heart, brain and muscle activity, as well as eye movements, are placed on your chest, on your head, near your eyelids and on your legs.

You may also be fitted with a nasal device and chest/stomach bands to monitor and measure your breathing, and the lab’s technicians may also film you while you sleep – with your permission, of course – to learn more about your overnight behavior.

Using an at-home sleep apnea test

The option of taking a sleep apnea test at home is a newer innovation, and thanks to the comfort and convenience it provides, it seems to be quickly turning into the norm.

At-home sleep apnea tests are conducted using a special device such as ResMed’s ApneaLink to measure your sleep patterns during the night. Your doctor will provide instructions on how to use the device. From there, simply follow your normal evening routine. When you’re ready for sleep, attach the device and start recording. In the morning, remove everything and return the recording device to the clinic. (You may need to sleep with the device for one to three nights, depending on your doctor’s specific recommendation.)

Not everyone qualifies for the at-home sleep test. Because of its nature, at-home testing isn’t as sophisticated as lab testing, so some physicians may hesitate to recommend it; in particular, it may not pick up some of the subtler symptoms of sleep apnea.

To its advantage, though, it is far more financially friendly, costing around “$200 to $600, compared with about $800 to $3,000 for an overnight visit in a sleep lab,” explains Laura Johannes for The Wall Street Journal. “Insurers increasingly are requiring home tests as a first step before paying for an in-lab test.”

Will your insurance cover a sleep apnea test? Most insurance companies have specific rules for reimbursement and compensation; your doctor will discuss these factors with you and help you determine what kind of sleep apnea test is an option for you.

Also, visit these other resources for sleep apnea test information:

This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.

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