In 2007, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a clinical guideline declaring that home sleep apnea tests were equivalent to in-lab sleep studies for the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in at-risk patients. You can read the guideline here. Diagnosing OSA is by far the most common reason to have a sleep study. In-home sleep studies cannot diagnose other sleep disorders besides sleep apnea. It is advisable that patients with certain medical problems such as advanced heart failure and lung disorders as well as people who at risk for sleep disorders due to leg movements have an in-lab study. Consult your doctor or a sleep specialist if you need advice on what type of sleep study is best for your situation.
Many people have reported that they can't sleep well during an overnight sleep study in the lab. This is actually to be expected. There is a phenomenon called "the first night effect" that leads us to not sleep normally in a new environment. Not only do people find it harder to fall and stay asleep in a different environment, but the normal sleep stage pattern may be disrupted. For this reason, there are strong reasons to believe that home sleep test results might actually be more accurate in many cases.
The equipment used during in-lab sleep studies is vastly different than what's used in home sleep apnea tests. In-lab sleep studies require that electrodes and sensors be applied to your body, from your scalp to your legs, with abrasive paste. There will be a technician observing you during the entirety of the study through an infrared camera in the sleep study room. Our home sleep test units only have three parts:
- a nasal cannula to measure airflow
- a pulse oximeter to measure oxygen levels
- a chest belt to measure breathing effort
The "brain" of the unit weighs 3 oz and sits on the chest belt. It records body position and all the data from the other sensors.
Additionally, in-lab sleep studies:
- Make you go to bed and get up on their schedule. Usually "lights out" is around 9:30-10 p.m. and "lights on" is 5-5:30 a.m. Many people find it hard to go to bed that early.
- You can get up to go to the bathroom during the sleep study, but it's a hassle. You have to call out to the technologist and then he/she has to "unplug" you so that you can go to the restroom.