Sleep Studies: What to Expect


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Sleep studies are a noninvasive, easy way to identify sleep disorders like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, circadian rhythm disorders, narcolepsy, parasomnias, and more. Although you might feel like a sleep study is inconvenient, there is a lot to gain and little to lose. By measuring your breathing patterns, muscle movement, brain activity, heart rate, oxygen levels, and more during sleep, Duke’s sleep disorders team can determine whether you have a sleep disorder, its type, and how to treat it so that you can start sleeping better.

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Types of Sleep Studies

There are several types of sleep studies, which are also called polysomnography. Your doctor will recommend the one is that right for you.

In-Lab Sleep Studies: This option is performed in a sleep lab by certified sleep technologists who are specifically trained to administer sleep studies and gather high-quality sleep data. Devices used during these studies include: 

  • EEG (electroencephalogram) sensors placed on your head to record your sleep stages and how long they last and to detect micro-arousals, meaning waking up during sleep without realizing it.
  • Instruments are placed under your nose or in front of your mouth to measure breathing patterns.
  • An elastic belt is placed around your ribcage and abdomen to help diagnose sleep apnea. It measures the effort your body generates while breathing or trying to breathe.
  • Leads are placed on your limbs to measure movement during sleep. This can help identify disorders like periodic limb movement disorder (which is common in people with restless leg syndrome) or REM behavior disorder.
  • EKG (electrocardiogram) leads are placed on your chest to monitor your heart rate and record any arrhythmias.

Daytime Sleep Studies: Depending on your symptoms, you may need to complete an overnight sleep study and/or one or more of the following daytime sleep studies:

  • Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT): Uses data from a series of naps to help identify narcolepsy and disorders causing daytime sleepiness.
  • Maintenance of wakefulness test (MWT): Often used to determine a person’s ability to stay awake to ensure it is safe for you to operate a motor vehicle.

After completing an initial sleep study and being diagnosed with sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, you may benefit from another study to confirm which type of treatment is best for you and to assess the effectiveness of an oral device or CPAP/BiPAP pressure levels.

Duke Sleep Labs

Duke’s two sleep labs, located in Durham and Raleigh, are accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. This recognizes our ability to offer the highest-quality care for sleep disorders and our commitment to patient success.

At-Home Sleep Study
Home sleep studies are a convenient way to screen for obstructive sleep apnea. A sleep technologist will show you how to perform an overnight sleep study in the comfort of your own home. However, these sleep studies can miss mild or moderate sleep apnea in certain people. 

Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals

Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 10 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

Getting Your Sleep Study Results

Because sleep disorders can be nuanced, it takes a team of experts to sift through the data and make an accurate diagnosis. A sleep technologist will gather the preliminary findings and then send the results to a sleep doctor for a comprehensive review. Your sleep doctor will contact you within a few days to provide your results and discuss next steps.

This page was medically reviewed on 01/08/2024 by