Sleep Study

Last night I spent the night in a sleep lab. During a recent physical, I brought up the fact that my snoring keeps Meg awake at night. I also have irregular sleep habits. My doctor recommended the sleep study to check for problems that cause snoring, usually sleep apnea.

I kissed the family goodbye and goodnight, as I left for the sleep lab with a bag containing pajamas and a toothbrush. I arrived at the appointed hour and was greeted by a stout technician named Shane. He was wearing light blue scrubs with the logo of the sleep lab embroidered on the right chest. He led me back to my sleep room and left me with the usual clipboard of medical forms.

After I filed them out, we began our interview. He asked more detailed questions about my sleep habits, my snoring and my ability to sleep or stay awake in a variety of situations. Now it was time to get in my pajamas and get hooked up.

He attached electrodes to my legs, shoulders, neck and face with tape; and he attached ones to my scalp with paste. A belt went around my stomach and another around my chest. I also got a mouth sensor and a nose sensor. After lying down on the bed to get all hooked up, I also had a finger sensor clipped to my index finger. He plugged in the equipment and checked the signal on the electrodes.

He turned out the light and asked me to go to sleep. I spent a long time awake trying to get to sleep. I normally sleep on my stomach, but I could never get my face comfortable with all the electrodes attached to it. I did eventually fall asleep.

At some point during the night I woke up and I heard footsteps coming down the hall. The door opened and Shane walked in. Did I pull something off? I asked. Apparently I awoke with a start, and one of my arms flailed in the air, pulling an electrode off my head. He re-attached it with some more paste. I took this opportunity to go to the bathroom. All the electrodes from me run to one box, so there is only one connection to the equipment. This makes the box portable by just unplugging the one wire.

I got back in bed and tried to get to sleep. I laid there awake for a long time. I was wide awake. After a while I called out to Shane. There was a live mic hanging over my head so he could monitor the audio (read: snoring) in the room. I told him I was wide awake and couldn’t get back to sleep. He told me that I needed to lie there until the study was over. I accepted his offer for a drink of water. I think I was just bored from lying there awake and I just wanted something to do. Both he and I knew that I would eventually fall back asleep.

At 5am he woke me up to remove all my electrodes. I asked him if he could give me any non-diagnostic, general observations about my sleeping. He said no. I asked him if I snored, and he said yes. Not the loudest hhe ever heard, but snoring nonetheless. He told me that the report on the study should be to my doctor in about a week, so I should call her then. I thanked him and went home.

This afternoon the sleep lab called and told me that their staff doctor reviewed my study. It indicated that I have moderate sleep apnea. This is one of causes of snoring that is more dangerous than others. While all causes of snoring are treatable, it is more important to treat sleep apnea. This means that during sleep, the muscles in my neck and throat relax, and close my airway. The blocked airway causes the snoring, and when the blockage is severe, thereby reducing the intake of oxygen, your brain wakes you up.

I have always woken up several times during the night, but I never knew there was a medical cause to it. I am also probably waking up more than I remember, so this is a prime cause of sleep deprivation.

I have a follow-up appointment to help determine the best way to treat my sleep apnea. There is a machine called a CPAP that blows air into your throat to keep your airway open. Generally, this study is to determine the right air pressure for the machine. I can’t imagine how I will sleep with electrodes and a mask over my mouth. We shall see.

Jeffrey L Cohen

Jeffrey L Cohen