If you find that you frequently wake up with headaches, have been told that you snore loudly or excessively, or experience excessive daytime sleepiness, an at-home sleep study can provide you with some insight into your sleep health.
Modern studies estimate that the number of people affected by sleep apnea is between two to nine percent of all adults. While Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the leading cause of daytime sleepiness, most cases go undiagnosed and untreated.
In the past, an in-lab sleep study would be the standard for diagnosing sleep apnea. However, with the extensiveness, inconvenience, and cost, an in-lab sleep test can be intimidating. Many in-lab sleep study participants also complain about the difficulty of sleeping in an environment where they’re hooked up to numerous monitors and devices while also under observation.
Luckily, at-home sleep study kits are becoming more popular and accessible and come at a fraction of the cost of a lab sleep study. You can now find out your risk level for Obstructive Sleep Apnea from the comfort of your own bed with minimal equipment and usually for under $200.
In this article, we’ll be breaking down the ins and outs of a home sleep study from every angle to help you better understand how large of an impact one night of monitored sleep can have on your health and quality of life. If you’ve had it with tiresome days and restless nights, read on.
What Is a Sleep Study?
Polysomnography—more commonly known as a sleep study—is the gold standard for diagnosing sleep disorders including sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy. To perform the test, electrodes are placed on the scalp, the outer edge of the eyelids, and the skin on the chin.
Many sleep studies are done in a sleep lab and comprehensively measure disturbances in your sleep. Sleep labs conduct an analysis of breathing, heart rate, oxygen levels, and can even measure neurological activity in your brain related to your breathing and sleep.
The test records your brain waves, heart rate and breathing, the oxygen level in your blood, and eye and leg movements. Characteristic patterns are recorded during three stages: while you are awake, while your eyes are closed, and while you are asleep.
A sleep study also records how long it takes to fall asleep, the amount of time it takes to enter REM, length of sleep cycles, your body movements, breathing patterns, and overall sleep architecture.
Taking a Sleep Apnea Test at Home: How Does It Work?
A home sleep apnea test involves a simplified breathing monitor that tracks your breathing, oxygen levels, and breathing effort.
Your provider can help you pick a home sleep study device that is small, light, and allows for easy self-administration. Not every test is the same, though, and while some use less equipment than others, you’ll typically receive:
- Soft electrodes that conform to your skin, which are typically placed on the chest
- A small pulse oximeter to be placed on the finger
- A chest belt to measure breath volume and frequency, which sometimes also tracks sleeping positions
- A nasal cannula to measure air flow. Similar to an oxygen mask, a cannula has two prongs that go into the nostrils and secures by wrapping over the ears.
All of these sensors are hooked up to a small device about the size of a smartphone that records the data. When the night is over, you send the machine back to the sleep lab for analysis, and the results are sent to the provider to discuss your results, diagnosis, and treatment options.
Thanks to innovative new technology, some home sleep tests, such as the SleepAgain HST, are disposable, which means you don’t have to worry about wearing used equipment or sending anything back! Your data is uploaded instantly the next morning via the NightOwl App, allowing for a quicker and more accessible diagnosis.
In addition to being approved by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, home sleep tests allow you to sleep in a familiar environment, which allows for deeper sleep than you might get during an in-lab sleep study.
Though rare, your home sleep study may be inconclusive or indicate a condition other than or more severe than OSA. In those cases, your provider may prescribe an overnight sleep study at a sleep lab as a follow-up.
Are At-Home Sleep Studies Accurate?
Yes, an at-home sleep study is an accurate method of determining whether or not you experience Obstructive Sleep Apnea without having to leave the comfort of your own home.
It is worth noting, however, that a lab sleep study will be far more comprehensive than a home sleep study. An at-home sleep study does not monitor brain activity and cannot diagnose Central or Complex Sleep Apnea and will not give a clear picture if you also experience other medical conditions that contribute to daytime sleepiness as well.
There are limitations to what the home sleep test can reveal, but the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has recommended a standard approach to ensure the capability of a home sleep test. The clinical guidelines suggest that the proper OSA evaluation requires portable monitoring equipment that records at least:
- Airflow (Pressure-Based)
- Pulse Oximetry
- Heart Rate
- The Changes in the Amount of Air You Breathe In and Out While Sleeping
Despite these limitations, there are several benefits to account for when considering a home sleep test vs. in-lab polysomnography, so be sure to check out the pros and cons section below.
How Much Does a Home Sleep Study Cost?
Depending on the location of the testing center and your health insurance coverage, a traditional in-lab sleep study (polysomnography) can cost anywhere between $600 and $5,000, though it can even exceed this upper limit in some cases. The average cost of an in-lab sleep study is around $1,000 to $2,000, and most insurance companies—including Medicare—will cover the bulk of this expense.
Home sleep studies are becoming increasingly popular because they cost much less than tests conducted in a sleep lab and can be completed in the comfort of your own home. A home sleep test can cost as little as $125 depending on your current health insurance coverage.
Whether or not your insurance will cover a lab sleep study will depend on your plan and whether you’ve already met your deductible for the year. It’s also important to make sure you go with a sleep clinic that’s in your insurance network. On the other hand, a home sleep study is much cheaper to participate in, and even if your insurance doesn’t cover it, the out-of-pocket expenses for an at-home test are always cheaper than the sleep clinic option.
Who Qualifies for a Home Sleep Test?
Theoretically, any person ages 18 to 65 who is experiencing difficulties with their sleep can sign up for a home sleep test and consult virtually with a doctor.
However, in some cases, a home sleep apnea test may not be the best way to diagnose your sleep apnea.
Let’s discuss a few reasons why:
- Daytime tiredness and trouble concentrating may point to Obstructive Sleep Apnea(OSA), but they may also point to other conditions related to breathing and blood pressure such as congestive heart failure or hypertension.
- If you experience symptoms related to blood pressure or heart health in addition to those related to possible signs of sleep apnea, disclose them and any others to your physician to discuss if an at-home test is right for you. If you’ve been diagnosed with COPD, narcolepsy, a REM behavior disorder, or any other comorbidity associated with sleep apnea, or if you sleep with supplemental oxygen, an in-lab study will likely be required for a complete analysis of your sleep health. If there’s any chance you may have Central or Complex Sleep Apnea, a lab study is required.
- The AASM’s position on the matter is that a home sleep test should not be used on asymptomatic individuals as a general screening method, and only for those with uncomplicated health histories who are at risk for or are suspected of experiencing obstructive sleep apnea.
- The AASM further recommends that the appropriateness of administering a home sleep test should be based on your medical history and a face-to-face consultation with a licensed healthcare provider.
Do Sleep Studies Require a Prescription?
Yes, a sleep study is considered a medical procedure and requires an order from a provider whether you are having the sleep study done in a sleep center or at home. At CPAP.com, we are committed to working with your doctor to ensure you can access any sleep study or any subsequent sleep therapy products you need.
One of the most convenient aspects of the SleepAgain Home Sleep Apnea Diagnosis is that it includes a virtual consultation with a real doctor who will write you a prescription for the test if they decide you’re an appropriate candidate for a home sleep study. As an added bonus, if they decide you’re not a candidate, you only pay for the consultation!
Pros and Cons of a Home Sleep Study
In Home Sleep Study vs Lab Sleep Study, we go in-depth on the pros and cons of each approach to sleep studies, so we’ll keep it brief for now. Here are the advantages and disadvantages as they pertain to home sleep apnea testing:
Advantages of a Home Sleep Study
There are many reasons to get a home sleep study, including:
- Access for Those in Remote Areas – Clinics in remote areas are often designed to treat general medicine and may not always have room to conduct sleep tests. As a result, people living in remote areas often must travel to the nearest sleep lab which can be hours away.
- Sleep in Your Own Home – If you’re sensitive to your sleeping environment, you’ll be much more likely to get a good night’s sleep (aka clear test data) with a home sleep test than traditional polysomnography.
- Improved Timeliness of Study Results – Results from a home sleep study can be obtained, discussed with your primary care physician or sleep specialist, and acted on more quickly than a sleep study done in a lab setting. Typically, you’ll have an actionable prescription within a week of completing your home sleep apnea study.
- Results Comparable to a Sleep Clinic – A 2017 study found that home sleep test results are comparable to sleep lab results for several parameters, meaning a home sleep test can adequately diagnose OSA.
- Polysomnography Cost – Home sleep testing offers unparalleled value. For just $169, the SleepAgain Home Sleep Apnea Diagnosis gets you a consultation with a real doctor, a prescription for a home sleep test, the actual sleep test device with technical support, AND a prescription for an APAP machine. Furthermore, if our telemedicine partner determines during your initial consultation that you’re not at risk for obstructive sleep apnea or might need a lab sleep study instead, you’ll only be charged $100 for the consultation! On the other hand, a lab sleep study can be expensive, with some more extreme bills as high as $10,000 pre-insurance. Typically, though, a healthcare provider will ensure you have adequate insurance coverage before ordering a lab sleep study, and the final out-of-pocket cost will be fairly reasonable.
- Access for Those with Restricted Schedules/ Ongoing Commitments – Home sleep studies are typically available anytime and, therefore, fit into any schedule. With almost 80% of OSA patients failing to receive an accurate diagnosis, at-home sleep studies are revolutionary in their ability to accurately diagnose OSA within the constraints of your life. For single parents, caregivers, or anyone else who can’t commit to a night out of the house for a lab study, the convenience of a home sleep study cannot be beaten.
Disadvantages of a Home Sleep Study
Home sleep studies offer several benefits, but they do have a few disadvantages over in-lab sleep tests:
- Not Everyone Is Eligible – A home sleep apnea test can work for most of those who suspect they have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), but as with most therapies, those with certain conditions related to breathing, the heart, or blood pressure may not be good candidates for a home sleep study. It’s important to disclose your health history to your physician to assess whether or not you’d be a good candidate.
- No Brain Activity Is Recorded – What happens in your brain during sleep is part of understanding sleep. One disadvantage of a home sleep study is that brain activity isn’t recorded. However, a diagnosis compliant with AASM guidelines can be made through a home sleep test.
- Technical Support – Home sleep testing devices are simple and durable, so the odds of malfunction in the middle of the night are extremely low. Most include instructions on troubleshooting easy-to-solve problems, but in the rare case your device is totally unresponsive or perhaps isn’t tracking your data correctly, you will need to contact the device manufacturer and make arrangements to exchange devices or see if they can walk you through fixing the problem. If you choose our SleepAgain device, however, we have dedicated sleep coaches on standby to help you with any issues that might arise.
How to Prepare for a Home Sleep Study
The goal of a sleep study is to learn what happens with your breathing when you sleep. You’ll fall asleep faster at home because you’ll feel comfortable. Therefore, conducting these tests at home can help ensure that you are able to sleep as relaxed as possible and ensure accurate results.
Do not nap, consume caffeine, or drink alcohol on the day of the test as doing so can make it harder to fall asleep. Consuming caffeine and alcohol can interfere with the data a sleep study collects. Exercising during the day can also help to tire you out for your sleep study later in the evening.
It’s also worth noting, however, that the real purpose of polysomnography is to get an accurate picture of where and how sleep fits into your regular routine. Don’t drastically change anything about your typical day before your sleep study so your sleep technologist has the best representation of your average sleep quality.
Follow your typical bedtime routine and relax—it can be intimidating not knowing what to expect from the test, but knowing that you are making an investment in a healthier future for yourself may help put you at ease.
Still Not Convinced You Need a Sleep Study?
We’ve gone over the dangers of untreated sleep apnea in these articles:
If you’re still on the fence about being tested, consider that the more severe your sleep apnea is, the more fragmented your sleep becomes. With greater sleep fragmentation, your level of risk increases for:
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
- Heart Disease
- Heart Failure
- Chronic Fatigue
- Weight Gain
- Pregnancy Complications (If Applicable)
- Being Involved in a Motor Vehicle Collision
And if you need a couple of bonus reasons, here are two more for the road:
- Reducing Stroke Risk – Strokes are also associated with sleep apnea. A study that looked at meta-analyses found that over 50% of patients who’ve had a stroke also suffer from moderate to severe sleep apnea.
- Waking Up Headache-Free – If you wake up tired or with a headache, a home sleep test may help determine whether or not you are having these symptoms as a result of OSA.
Talk to Your Healthcare Provider
Ultimately, a provider that is familiar with your medical history will be the best person to talk to about your options regarding sleep testing.
If, however, you meet the basic criteria and decide that a home sleep study is right for you, visit our home sleep test center to learn more about how a better night of sleep can lead to a healthier you!
Eric graduated from Texas State University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He has worked as a freelance photographer, editor, and writer. Eric is committed to providing the most value possible to CPAP.com readers by creating a highly approachable user experience, with an emphasis on actionable information and thorough research.