Everything to Know About an At-Home Sleep Apnea Test
Dr. Angel Rivera
Do you snore? Do you feel exhausted during the day, even after getting a good night's sleep? You may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects millions of people in the United States. It occurs when your airways become blocked or narrowed, preventing you and possibly your bed partner from getting a good night's sleep. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. If you think you may have sleep apnea, there are several options available to you for diagnosis, including an at-home sleep test. We will discuss everything you need to know about an at-home sleep apnea test and explore other options too.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s airway becomes blocked or narrowed during sleep, preventing them from getting the oxygen they need. This can lead to pauses in breathing or shallow breaths for a few seconds to minutes at a time. Men and people over 40 are at a higher risk than others, although women and children can also suffer from it. It is most common in people who are overweight, sleep on their back, or have a family history of sleep apnea. It can also be caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids, which are soft tissue in the back of your throat, that block the upper airway most often in younger children.
There are three main types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is the most common type is caused by a blockage in the airway
- Central sleep apnea (CSA) is a rarer form of sleep apnea and occurs when the brain doesn’t send the correct signals to control breathing
- Complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea and is also called mixed sleep apnea (MSA)
Symptoms of sleep apnea can vary depending on the type you have, however, common symptoms include:
- Pauses in your breathing
- Loud snoring
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Feeling exhausted during the day which is also called excessive daytime sleepiness or EDS
- Morning headaches caused by a lack of oxygen while asleep
- Dry mouth or a sore throat when you wake up
- Problems focusing and being more irritable than usual
- Choking or gasping while you sleep
These are the most common symptoms of sleep apnea, but sleep apnea can cause other symptoms as well. If you have these symptoms and believe you have sleep apnea you should see your doctor or healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Sleep disorders are tricky to diagnose and sleep apnea is no exception. The first step in the diagnosis of sleep apnea begins with a consultation with your doctor or another sleep specialist who will ask you questions about the severity of your symptoms, your sleep habits, and whether you snore. They will also perform a physical exam to look for signs of sleep apnea such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
The next step is usually a sleep study called polysomnography, which is an overnight sleep study in a sleep lab or sleep clinic where you sleep while hooked up to a variety of devices and monitors that measure things like heart rate, breathing, sleep stages, and muscle activity. Polysomnography is the gold standard for sleep apnea diagnosis but can be uncomfortable and sleep in a sleep lab might not mimic your normal sleep environment at home.
At-home sleep apnea tests are also an option for diagnosis. These tests work by measuring your breathing and heart rate while you sleep, and some can even track snoring. They are not as accurate as a sleep study in a sleep lab, but they can be helpful in diagnosing sleep apnea if you have mild to moderate symptoms.
In general, sleep apnea tests work by monitoring several different things as you sleep. Most home sleep apnea tests (HSATs) use a small wire taped in place near your nose and mouth to monitor your breathing. This wire may look similar to a nasal cannula which is the nose tubing used to deliver oxygen to patients. Your torso will also have sensors on an elastic band that will monitor your breathing pattern and heart rate. Lastly, a finger probe oximeter is attached to a finger to measure your blood oxygen level.
Sometimes people may need to pick up their equipment from a doctor or medical center while others may have the equipment sent to their home. Once you have received the equipment and attached it properly, you simply sleep as you normally would for one to three nights. The data collected while you sleep will be sent to a doctor or sleep specialist who will then interpret the results. When you are finished using the test you simply return it the way you received it and wait for your results from the sleep medicine specialists.
What are the benefits of at-home sleep tests?
The main benefit of sleep apnea tests is that they are convenient. Other sleep studies require you to sleep in a sleep lab which is usually not very comfortable, and sometimes even has multiple people participating in a sleep study at the same time. Some home sleep apnea tests can be ordered online without ever having to see your doctor or healthcare provider first, and others may require a sleep study in-lab first to determine if you need an at-home sleep test.
In addition to convenience, sleep apnea tests can also be more comfortable than sleep studies done in labs. These tests also don't have as many monitors as in a sleep lab which can make it more comfortable for the person wearing it. They are also less expensive than polysomnography and may not require you to take time off from work.
Are there any risks to taking an at-home sleep test?
Home sleep apnea tests are generally less accurate than sleep tests done at a sleep center. There is always a small risk of false positives and false negatives when using home sleep apnea tests. This means that the results of your sleep apnea test may not be accurate and you may need to do additional testing. If you do sleep apnea testing at home and you have severe sleep apnea, you will likely still need to sleep in a sleep lab.
One of the biggest risks with sleep apnea tests at home is not knowing how to properly set up the equipment or attach it correctly. Make sure that you read all instructions carefully and have someone help you if needed. If the sleep apnea test is not attached correctly it may not be able to collect data and you will need to sleep in a sleep lab.
The home sleep apnea tests only test for sleep apnea which can also be a disadvantage. Should you have other sleep or medical conditions there will be no way for the doctor or sleep specialist to know it. Overall, sleep tests done in the lab are more comprehensive and lead to a more accurate diagnosis while at-home sleep apnea tests are more comfortable and convenient.
If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are a few treatment options that your doctor may discuss with you. One option is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy which involves wearing a mask while you sleep to keep your airway open. This is the most common and effective treatment for sleep apnea. There are also other positive airway pressure treatments like BiPAP, bilevel positive airway pressure, or APAP which stand for automatic positive airway pressure. These machines and masks are very similar to CPAP machines but their pressures vary depending on your breathing.
Oral appliances, which are also called oral devices, for sleep apnea are also another option. These devices look similar to a sports mouth guard and fit in your mouth while you sleep. They are designed to move your tongue or jaw forward which helps keep the airway open during sleep. Oral appliances may be used alone if the sleep apnea is mild but usually work best when paired with CPAP therapy.
Another option is surgery. There are a few different surgeries that can be performed depending on the severity of sleep apnea and other health conditions you may have. One common surgery is called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) which removes excess tissue from the throat.
Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes like losing weight, quitting smoking, sleep position therapy, and avoiding alcohol before bed.
If sleep apnea is left untreated it can lead to a variety of health conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, depression, heart failure, and even death. If you think that you or someone you know may have sleep apnea it is important to consult with your doctor immediately. The sooner sleep apnea is treated the better.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes your airway to become blocked while you sleep. There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and complex sleep apnea syndrome. Symptoms of sleep include snoring excessively, being extremely tired during the day, waking up frequently during the night, and having morning headaches.
There are a couple of ways for doctors to diagnose sleep apnea such as a lab sleep study (polysomnography) or an at-home sleep test. An at-home sleep apnea test is a portable device that you use in your own bed to measure your sleep habits. It is similar to sleep testing in a sleep lab but the benefits of sleep apnea tests at home include convenience, privacy, and comfort. It should also be noted that home sleep apnea tests are generally less accurate than a sleep study conducted in a lab. If you have more questions please talk to your doctor or sleep specialist to find out the best way to diagnose sleep apnea for you.
References and Sources:
Johns Hopkins Medicine
American Sleep Association
Harvard Health Publishing