Learn about Sleep Labs and Sleep Study Centers

According to the American Sleep Association, an estimated 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder. Without a professional medical study, it is frequently difficult to detect. For that reason, sleep centers have opened for patient consultation around the country and the world.

The very first sleep center opened in 1977. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), there were 2,500 sleep centers in operation in 2012. In 2019, there are an estimated 4,700 sleep centers and labs operating in the US.

Because sleep disorders are difficult to detect, many patients visit their physician with questions about chronic tiredness, snoring, or falling asleep during the day. The physician generally recommends conducting a sleep study at a sleep lab to determine the cause of the symptoms. The sleep study may extend beyond a visit to the sleep lab or sleep center, to include an extended review of sleep over the course of several weeks and months, enabling the physician to keep a diary or log of your sleep habits.

What is it like to visit a sleep center?

Sleep centers generally include pods or individual rooms with beds and dim lighting, intended to provide comfort as patients doze off into restful sleep. The temperature can be adjusted to make the atmosphere warm or cool, the lighting can be adjusted, and other bedtime habits (including reading) are allowed. The patient’s comfort and inducing rest is most important.

What happens at a sleep center?

The environment is intended to induce sleep, providing a comfortable environment for naps. During the study, which may vary in time duration, patients are monitored via camera for breath and heart rate.

What technology and data do sleep centers use?

A significant amount of data about your health and vitals are captured during a visit to a sleep center. According to WebMD, the results of a polysomnograph (PSG), the test “that electronically transmits and records physical activities while you sleep,” are evaluated by a qualified sleep specialist and data analyst to observe patterns and share initial findings with physicians. The sleep specialist is able to determine whether you have a sleep disorder by reading and analyzing the data.

What types of sleep studies do they conduct?

There are several sleep studies that are frequently conducted during a visit to a sleep center. According to WebMD, those tests include:

  • Diagnostic Overnight Polysomnograph: general monitoring of sleep, body functions, breathing patterns, oxygen level in the blood, heart rhythm and limb movements.
  • Diagnostic Daytime Multiple Sleep Latency Test: determines whether the patient has narcolepsy and measures daytime sleepiness levels; specifically, how quickly the patient falls asleep during the day and how quickly the patient drifts into deep REM sleep.
  • Two-Night Evaluation PSG and CPAP Titration: General diagnostics and evaluation occur on the first night. On the 2nd night, if sleep apnea is discovered, the center will determine the correct air pressure level required for the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) equipment.
  • Split-Night PSG with CPAP Treatment: Similar to the two-night evaluation, but the study is condensed into one night for severe sleep apnea patients. The first half of the night focuses on diagnostics and evaluation and the second half of the night is used to determine the CPAP pressure required to off-set the sleep apnea blockage.

What types of sleep disorders are tested? 

At the sleep center, there are many sleep disorders with which a patient could be diagnosed. Some disorders are more well-known than others. According to WebMD, some of the most common sleep disorders include:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: breath is inhibited during sleep by a relaxed muscle that blocks the airway. A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is frequently prescribed to ensure a constant flow of air that keeps the airway clear throughout the night.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: Similar to obstructive sleep apnea, the breath is inhibited in the night by a brain communication malfunction as opposed to a muscular airway blockage.
  • Insomnia: the patient suffers from an inability to sleep.
  • Hypersomnia: patient suffers from daytime drowsiness.
  • Parasomnias: Patients are interrupted during deep REM sleep, unable to obtain a deep sleep. Symptoms include: nightmares, night terrors, sleep walking, waking up confused, etc.
  • REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: the patient does not fall into a deep sleep, causing dreams to become vocalized.
  • Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder: the circadian rhythm cycle is disrupted, impacting timing and duration of sleep.
  • Non-24 Hour Sleep/Wake Disorder: a circadian rhythm cycle disorder in which the patient falls asleep later and later and wakes up earlier and earlier. The schedule eventually flips, going to sleep in the morning and waking up at night.
  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder: the limbs actively move during the sleep cycle.
  • Shift Work Sleep Disorder: Difficulty staying awake during night shift work, when the patient needs to be awake, but the timing is not aligned to normal resting hours.
  • Narcolepsy: a neurological disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness.

Where to find a sleep center?

Websites such as sleepeducation.org include a search feature by zip code. Sleep centers in their directory must obtain accreditation from the American Academy of Sleep Education. Otherwise, physicians will be able to make a referral.

Do you have to pay for a sleep study?

According to sleepapnea.com, Medicare and most health insurance companies will pay for a sleep study, if it has been referred by a primary physician. Health insurance companies will generally require a qualifying sleep study referred by a physician, a formal diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea from the center, a prescription from the sleep specialist or physician detailing needed equipment and supplies, and the physician’s record and notes.

Can anyone visit a sleep center?

A physician referral is not required, but it is for insurance or Medicare coverage, according to one sleep center in Alaska (www.alaskasleep.com). You can make an appointment with a sleep specialist and they will meet with you to discuss conducting a sleep study. A sleep center is not the place to visit if you’re just looking for a place to have a 20-minute nap or a power nap. A napping facility that is open to the public should not be confused with a sleep lab or a sleep center.

How can SoClean help? 

For diagnosed sleep apnea patients, remember to keep your CPAP machine clean with the SoClean machine. Our automated cleaning machine ensures that up to 99.9% of bacteria are rid from the machine, so you can rest assured that you are breathing clean at night.

Sources: (1) American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “Demand for treatment of sleep illness is up as drowsy Americans seek help for potentially dangerous conditions,” December 2012, AASM. (2) WebMD, “How a Sleep Study Works,” Sleep Study Tests (Polysomnogram) - WebMD.