You may have complained of feeling fatigued a lot to your doctor. As a consequence, your doctor has decided to send you off to spend the night at a sleep lab to be tested for a condition such as sleep apnea, or to try to identify if there is some other cause for your problem. Every evening, sleep labs around the country perform tests on people, monitoring them as they sleep. Even if you have seen someone else on CPAP or using an oxygen concentrator, the field of sleep research often involves a lot of technology that is used for more than correcting obstructed air pathways.
Unless you have worked as a technician in a sleep lab, you may not even be aware that a sleep tech is looking for signs of other problems while you sleep. In fact, from the use of medical equipment to cameras, your brain and body are being monitored in more ways than one during a sleep test. The reason is because many sleep related disorders can be detected from a variety of diagnostic testing methods that are all occurring at the same time when you are wired up during a sleep study.
The Baseline Study
The first test that most everyone gets when they visit a sleep lab for the first time is a baseline study. The baseline study provides your doctor with critical information that helps them to determine if further testing is necessary. When you get to the sleep lab for a baseline study, the technician takes you to your room and hooks you up to a head box. Basically, this involves attaching a series of wires to your head, legs, and chest, along with a pulse-ox device on your finger, which all sends information through the head box to a computer in the tech room. This computer is outfitted with specialized software, which may be a software package such as Polysmith or some version of Alice, for example, which is constantly recording everything from your breathing patterns to your brain waves while you sleep. This makes it possible for the technician to monitor what is happening while you sleep, in case they need to make adjustments to the equipment or take notes for the doctor who will eventually be reading your study, searching for any issues that may occur in the course of the study that may indicate why you are feeling fatigue.
Often, if sleep apnea is found on the baseline study, your doctor may recommend a second study, which in many cases is a titration study. A titration generally begins much like a baseline study, with the technician hooking you up to the head box again, monitoring you while you sleep. The sleep tech will then put you on either a CPAP or BIPAP machine. The technician will adjust the air pressure throughout the night as you sleep to figure out what your optimal air pressure should be to prevent any apnea events from occurring.