Medical monitor imageSo you think you may have sleep apnea — what are you going to do now?

Well, I’m assuming that you’ve had a chat with your doctor already. If not, stop reading and make an appointment. This is important.

Okay, you’re back. After talking to your doctor he or she will have referred you to a sleep clinic for a sleep study. So your big question now is “What exactly is a sleep study for sleep apnea?”

Well, the official term is Polysomnography but you can just call it a sleep study.

The entire process can seem a little intimidating the first time, but I can promise you that it isn’t really all that bad. You’ll be hooked up to a computer that monitors different things during your sleep. In some cases you may have 2 nights of study along with a couple of daytime studies.

Arriving at the Sleep Clinic

A sleep study is performed at night since this is the time when most people normally sleep. As much as possible, the clinic will want to stay on or close to your normal sleep rhythm.

You will arrive at the clinic in the evening, usually around 7:00 pm. The technicians who work at the clinic will typically have to deal with 2 or 3 patients per session and the usually start with the patient that normally goes to sleep the earliest. It takes about 1/2 an hour to set up all the monitoring leads although it can take longer.

There will be a survey for you to fill out describing how you feel before heading to sleep. You may have an interview to ask about some of your sleep habits. The questions can seem a little personal, but they are very helpful in determining whether you have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.

Getting Wired


Once you are dressed for bed (lose fitting pajamas are recommended) you need to get hooked up for the monitors.

There will be leads that attach to various points around your head and face. These measure brain activity as you sleep (an eletroencephalogram or EEG). Some leads may be attached to your chin to detect muscle tension in your jaw (an eletromyogram) and near your eyes to track eye movement (an electrooculogram).


There may also be leads attached to your legs to measure how much they move during your sleep.

All of these leads are attached using a paste that holds them securely yet washes off quite easily. The closest thing I can think of to describe it is lard. It feels a bit weird at first, but you’ll get used to it quickly.


Your heart rate is also measured, so ECG (electrocardiogram) leads will also be attached. These leads are attached more firmly and if you’ve ever had an ECG before then you’ll know how hard it is to take these off, especially for those of us with a hairy chest!

You will also have lycra straps (or in some cases electronic leads) around your chest and abdomen to measure how you breathe (or attempt it) during your sleep.


There may be other leads attached to monitor different parts of your body as you sleep. It can vary from clinic to clinic and even patient to patient.


Now, all these leads are just dangling from various parts of your body. So the next step is to connect them to the monitoring box. This is a box that is about the size of a brick (but thankfully it isn’t as heavy). It has sockets to connect all of the leads so that the monitoring equipment will be able to record the information in the right place.

It will take a few minutes as the technician carefully ensures that each lead is plugged in correctly. While they do this, the box usually be hanging from a strap around your neck. You’ll kind of look like Iron Man — well, if you have a good imagination.

Once this is complete, you’ll be free to walk about the clinic and do things similar to what you’d do at home — read, watch TV, etc. When it is time for sleep the technician will connect the monitoring box (which is no longer around your neck) to the computer cables and hook up a blood oxygen sensor to either your finger or your ear lobe. If you’re using a CPAP mask during your test, they’ll help you get it adjusted as well.

Sleepy Time!

Now you get to sleep.

While you are sleeping the computer will be recording all the information for your doctor to review. The technician will also be monitoring you through a microphone and, in some cases, a camera to make sure that you are okay.

If you wake up during the night to go to the washroom you will have to call the technician for assistance. They will need to disconnect you from the computer and then reconnect you when you’re done. Don’t worry if you have to do this several times during the night. This is part of their job and they are used to doing it.

Rise and Shine

Wake up time is usually around 6:00 to 6:30. They will usually wake the patients in the order that they went to sleep.

You might find this a bit early (I know that I do) but remember that the technician has been up all night watching you sleep. They need to get home and get some shut eye themselves.

The tech will get you disconnected from the computer cable and you can then go to the washroom if needed.

You will be asked to fill out another survey about how you slept and how you feel. After that, the leads are removed and you can finish getting cleaned up and dressed. And that is all — for most. It is possible that your doctor may want a multiple sleep latency test that is done during the day. We’ll talk about that another time.

So, that’s what you can expect when you have a sleep study for sleep apnea. Nothing to lose sleep over 8=)

Bill (LoneWolf) Nickerson


  • I am an aspiring Sleep expert and thought you’d like to know that I like the site and appreciate your work and information presented on the site. Thanks

    Michelle Gordon

    • LoneWolf says:

      Thanks Michelle. I’m learning more things than I have time to write about in this field. I feel that I spent too much of my life in the dark about sleep.

      The results of the research in the past 60 years is fascinating.

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