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  • Reviewed on 12/12
    By Dr. Harrington

Sleep Disorders: Diagnosis


If a sleep disorder is suspected, your healthcare provider may refer you to a sleep clinic for an evaluation by sleep specialists. A sleep specialist will use a variety of information to diagnose your sleep disorder. It may include: a detailed history, medication history, physical exam, sleep diary, sleep study, and other testing.

  • Detailed History: A sleep specialist will ask you questions about your health and symptoms. Your sleep partner may be asked questions about what he or she observes.
  • Medication History: Your medication will be reviewed to see if these may be playing a role in your symptoms
  • Physical Exam: During a complete physical exam, the doctor may look for a deviated nasal septum, nasal congestion, enlarged tonsils or a narrowed airway which may give clues to snoring or sleep apnea.
  • Sleep Diary: Over a one to two week period, you will record information about how well and how often you sleep. Your doctor may discuss the sleep diary data with you and determine the next steps to take.
  • Sleep Study: A sleep study may be ordered to make a diagnosis. No needles are involved, and it is relatively simple and painless.

    A "sleep study", also called a polysomnogram, is a non-invasive test that records your physical state during various stages of sleep. It provides essential data to evaluate sleep and sleep-related complaints and problems, such as identifying sleep stages, body position, blood oxygen levels, respiratory events, muscle tone, heart rate, eye movement, brain waves, amount of snoring, and general sleep behavior.

    If you are being tested for sleep apnea, you may undergo a "split-night" test, in which half the night will be used to diagnose your sleep problem, and the other half will be used to determine the best way to treat the problem. Or you may be asked to return for another sleep study to help determine the best treatment for you.
  • Other Testing: Other tests may be ordered to determine your level of sleepiness or your ability to stay awake. Tests may be performed to look for stimulants, opiates, and anti-anxiety medicines which may be contributing to your symptoms.

 

Types of Other Tests

The types of tests used to diagnose a sleep condition include:

  • Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) - This test objectively determines your degree of sleepiness. On the day following an overnight sleep study, you will be asked to take four or five naps over an eight to ten hour period. Each nap period lasts about twenty minutes. During these nap periods, you will be closely monitored, as you were during your sleep study.
  • Maintenance of Wakefulness Test (MWT) - This test measures your ability to stay awake. It consists of four nap opportunities, each lasting forty minutes. During the nap period, you will be asked to try to stay awake. Most people without excessive sleepiness remain awake during these nap periods.
  • Performance and Vigilance Testing - This is a test of your ability to perform certain tasks. Driving simulators measure how you perform. They also measure alertness.
  • Actigraphy - For this test, a device called an actigraph is worn over the wrist like a watch. Signals are recorded when movement is detected. There are no signals recorded during sleep or inactivity. This can provide information about periods of rest/sleep activity. The device may be worn for several days to weeks if needed.
  • Lab Tests - Your doctor may order lab tests. These may include drug screening for stimulants, opiates, and anti-anxiety medicines. These medicines are known to affect the level of alertness.

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