All about sleep studies

Sleep studies can be done in the patient's home or at a sleep lab. Either way, you will need to give your patient a referral or prescription for them to pass on to the sleep study provider.

During a sleep study, your patient's breathing, body movements and responses during the night are monitored to see if he or she has a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.

Below is some information you can pass on to your patients about what happens during a sleep study.


In a sleep lab

In a sleep lab or hospital, a sleep technician will place sensors on your patient's body to monitor their sleep.

Sensors are placed:

  1. on the chest to monitor heart activity
  2. close to the eyelids to measure eye movements that help indicate if the patient is in REM or non-REM sleep
  3. on the head to measure electrical signals from the brain
  4. on the legs to assess muscle activity

Patients will also be fitted with:

  • a nasal cannula to monitor breathing
  • an oximeter on their finger to record oxygen levels
  • bands around their chest and stomach to measure breathing effort

With your patient's permission, staff may also request to film the sleep study to gain more insights into the patient's sleeping behaviour.

During this type of study, your patient will be required to stay overnight at the facility, so they should take everything needed for their usual sleeping routine, including pyjamas and toiletries.


At home

A home setup is similar to that in a hospital or sleep lab – but a patient can remain in their own home. Prior to the sleep study night, a sleep technician will have shown your patient how to apply the sensors and monitors, and how to use the recording device during the night.

The night of the sleep test, the patient simply follows a normal evening routine and gets ready for sleep, sets up the equipment, and starts the recording. In the morning, the patient returns the recording device to the hospital or sleep lab.


What do sleep studies measure?

Among other things, the sleep study will indicate the severity of your patient's condition, which is classified according to an apnea hypopnea index (AHI).

Measured during the sleep study, AHI refers to the number of apneas and hypopneas your patient has per hour.

Severity AHI (per hour)
Normal <5
Mild 5 to <15
Moderate 15 to <30
Severe ≥30

In addition to the patient's AHI, the diagnosis will take into account the patient's oxygen desaturation.

Once you receive your patient's sleep study results, you can then talk to him or her about the condition (if it's present), its severity, its possible health effects and treatment options.


Medicare covers the cost of some diagnostic sleep studies, but there may be a gap payment. It's best that your patient checks with his or her sleep lab or health insurance provider.