How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

If you wake up feeling sleepy, it might be tempting to write it off as just another night, but if it becomes a regular problem, then it may be time to consider sleep apnea as a possible cause of this excessive tiredness. This sleep disorder occurs when breathing starts and stops throughout the night. It is a potentially serious condition, and a doctor has to perform extensive testing to positively identify the problem.

Determining a sleep apnea diagnosis

Sleep apnea testing is performed either at home or in a lab. The type of testing depends on the patient and the severity of the symptoms.

Testing at home

Patients can perform unattended sleep studies at home. This is accomplished with the use of a portable device that monitors the patient's breathing and oxygen levels throughout the night. Individuals will use the device for a few nights until enough data is collected. Medical professionals then formulate this data into a report that is reviewed with the patient to explain the diagnosis and discuss treatment options.

An at-home test is more convenient and usually not as expensive as testing in a lab, but it is limited and less precise. While it can detect the most common form, which is obstructive sleep apnea, some patients may need to go through more testing to determine an exact diagnosis. If this is the case, the doctor may suggest a lab test.

Patients can prepare for at-home tests by avoiding naps and caffeine after lunchtime. Alcohol can also interfere with sleep and should not be used before the assessment. For accurate results, patients should try to sleep on their back or side.

Testing in a lab

If the at-home test is inconclusive, or the patient's symptoms are severe, the doctor may suggest a lab test for sleep apnea. Lab tests are usually done at a sleep clinic where the patient will spend one or more nights. During the appointment, the person is monitored with a variety of sensors. In addition to breathing and oxygen levels, sleep clinic personnel monitor the patient's brain activity and body movements.

Being hooked up to an EKG while sleeping might seem stressful, but sleep clinics are aware of this and try to make patients comfortable. Participants are given private bedrooms and can bring amenities such as pajamas, toothbrushes, phones, clothes, and other personal items. Technicians communicate with the patient through an intercom.

Lab tests, also known as polysomnograms, can be highly informative and beneficial. To ensure the test goes smoothly, patients should avoid drinking alcohol or napping on the day of the appointment. Caffeine after lunchtime can also interfere with sleep. Patients should inform the doctor of any medications that may hinder the test results.


Sleep apnea can be a stressful condition for patients because it interrupts a good night's rest. Fortunately, it can be diagnosed either at home or in a lab via sleep monitoring. Patients should consult with a doctor for an assessment and formation of a treatment plan.

Request an appointment here: or call Pier 210 Dental Group at (530) 885-5696 for an appointment in our Auburn office.

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