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Sleep Study

Polysomnography (PSG), also known as a sleep study, is a multi-parametric test used in the study of sleep and as a diagnostic tool in sleep medicine. The test result is called a polysomnogram.

Polysomnography is a comprehensive recording of the biophysiological changes that occur during sleep. It is usually performed at night, when most people sleep, though some labs can accommodate shift workers and people with circadian rhythm sleep disorders and do the test at other times of day. The PSG monitors many body functions including brain (EEG), eye movements (EOG), muscle activity or skeletal muscle activation (EMG) and heart rhythm (ECG) during sleep.

Polysomnography is used to diagnose, or rule out, many types of sleep disorders including narcolepsy, periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), REM behavior disorder, parasomnias, and sleep apnea. It is often ordered for patients with complaints of daytime fatigue or sleepiness that may be caused by interrupted sleep. Although it is not directly useful in diagnosing circadian rhythm sleep disorders, it may be used to rule out other sleep disorders.

A polysomnogram will typically record a minimum of twelve channels requiring a minimum of 22 wire attachments to the patient. Three channels are for the EEG, one or two measure airflow, one is for chin muscle tone, one or more for leg movements, two for eye movements (EOG), one for heart rate and rhythm, one for oxygen saturation and one each for the belts which measure chest wall movement and upper abdominal wall movement.

Wires for each channel of recorded data lead from the patient and converge into a central box, which in turn is connected to a computer system for recording, storing and displaying the data. During sleep the computer monitor can display multiple channels continuously. In addition, most labs have a small video camera in the room so the technician can observe the patient visually from an adjacent room.

The electroencephalogram (EEG) will generally use six "exploring" electrodes and two "reference" electrodes, unless a seizure disorder is suspected, in which case more electrodes will be applied to document the appearance of seizure activity.

The electrooculogram (EOG) uses two electrodes; one that is placed 1 cm above the outer canthus of the right eye and one that is placed 1 cm below the outer canthus of the left eye. These electrodes pick up the activity of the eyes in virtue of the electropotential difference between the cornea and the retina

The electromyogram (EMG) typically uses four electrodes to measure muscle tension in the body as well as to monitor for an excessive amount of leg movements during sleep (which may be indicative of periodic limb movement disorder, PLMD). Two leads are placed on the chin with one above the jaw line and one below. This, like the EOG, helps determine when sleep occurs as well as REM sleep. Sleep generally includes relaxation and so a marked decrease in muscle tension occurs.

Nasal and oral airflow can be measured using pressure transducers, and/or a thermocouple, fitted in or near the nostrils; the pressure transducer is considered the more sensitive

Pulse oximetry helps determine changes in blood oxygen levels that often occur with sleep apnea and other respiratory problems. The pulse oximeter fits over a finger tip or an ear lobe.

Snoring may be recorded with a sound probe over the neck, though more commonly the sleep technician will just note snoring as "mild", "moderate" or "loud" or give a numerical estimate on a scale of 1 to 10.

For the standard test the patient comes to a sleep lab in the early evening, and over the next 12 hours is introduced to the setting and "wired up" so that multiple channels of data can be recorded when he/she falls asleep. The sleep lab may be in a hospital, a free-standing medical office, or in a hotel. A sleep technician should always be in attendance and is responsible for attaching the electrodes to the patient and monitoring the patient during the study.

During the study, the technician observes sleep activity by looking at the video monitor and the computer screen that displays all the data second by second. In most labs the test is completed and the patient is discharged home by 7 a.m. unless a Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) is to be done during the day to test for excessive daytime sleepiness.

Most recently, physicians may prescribe home studies to enhance patient comfort and reduce expense. The patient is given instructions after a screening tool is used, uses the equipment at home and returns it the next day. The equipment monitors, at a minimum, oxygen saturation.

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