Diagnosing sleep apnea used to be something you could only do in a sleep clinic, but in the last 10 years, technology has advanced significantly, making home testing a reliable, affordable and comfortable alternative.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common yet dangerous health issue that occurs when you stop breathing in your sleep. Breathing usually halts anywhere between five seconds and two minutes, during which time your body and brain are not receiving any new oxygen.
Once breathing resumes, you might snore or choke before drifting back to sleep. Since this chronic condition deprives you of oxygen and prevents you from falling into a deep sleep, it causes extensive complications and health problems.
How sleep apnea impacts your health
The most noticeable side effect of sleep apnea is extreme exhaustion during the day. This is because every few minutes the cyclical nature of sleep apnea causes you to wake up, albeit very briefly.
Even though you may not realise you’re waking up, sleep quality is seriously compromised. Hence your body never has a chance to experience the deep restorative sleep that is so vital to your health.
Signs, symptoms and side effects
If you have a case of undiagnosed sleep apnea, the likelihood is you’ll be constantly tired throughout the day. Outward signs of exhaustion are irritability and unusual drowsiness.
But chronic lack of sleep can lead to more serious consequences like memory and cognitive impairment, decreased alertness, and increased risk of serious diseases due to the body’s weakened immune system and heightened levels of stress.
Aside from exhaustion, sleep apnea also leads to high blood pressure. Blood oxygen levels drop every time you stop breathing in your sleep, placing unwanted strain on the cardiovascular system.
Also referred to as hypertension, high blood pressure can result in heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heartbeat. Similarly, sleep apnea can cause the body to develop an insulin resistance that instigates the development of Type 2 diabetes.
Other side effects, like weight gain, strained personal relationships, and decreased quality of life can all arise when sleep apnea is left untreated.
Diagnosing sleep apnea
In order to receive a definitive sleep apnea diagnosis and begin the treatment most appropriate for your specific condition, you need to complete a sleep study.
In past years it was only possible to complete a sleep study by staying overnight in a lab. But the unnatural testing environment spurred the development of home testing technology. By completing a home sleep test, you can identify if you are truly suffering from sleep apnea and begin the recovery process to avoid long-term health effects.
If you suspect that you are suffering from sleep apnea, your doctor will order you to complete a sleep study so a sleep physician can interpret the gathered data and determine if you do indeed have sleep apnea, and to what degree.
Years ago, sleep studies required a long, involved, and often torturous process in which the sleep apnea patient was wired with 15 sensors clamped to the scalp, lip, eye sockets, jaw, index finger, legs, and chest.
With a microphone to capture sounds and an infrared camera to monitor movement, the patient slept in a hospital bed so that technicians could collect sleep data.
In the comfort of your own home
Medical equipment has evolved significantly in the past decade, and home tests are now available for a far easier and more comfortable way to test for sleep apnea.
At only 1/10 of the cost of a hospital test, the home test is completed over a few nights in your own bed, using a portable device that’s relatively easy to hook up and take off without any assistance.
Home sleep tests measure biologic parameters that can indicate sleep apnea, like nasal and oral airflow, respiratory effect, and blood oxygen levels. The testing equipment is attached to your body only with Velcro, elastic, and stickers, so it is a totally painless procedure that won’t interrupt your sleep.
Beginning the process of healing
Once you return your sleep apnea machine for the data to be interpreted, your doctor will be able to officially diagnose your sleep apnea on a spectrum that will indicate the best course of action for treatment. If sleep apnea is treated correctly, you will regain regular breathing patterns during sleep and feel more alert during the day. You will also avoid a host of unpleasant side effects to your health.
Lifestyle changes are the first defense against sleep apnea. Avoiding alcohol, losing weight, sleeping on your side, and quitting smoking are extremely effective in preventing and reducing sleep apnea symptoms.
If hands-on medical treatment is needed, mouthpieces and breathing devices work well to help air flow into your throat and keep your airway open while you sleep. Surgery can be considered in very serious or life threatening situations, but most obstructive sleep apnea can be resolved with non-invasive strategies.
The ease of at home testing now provides a way to test for sleep apnea without the complications of a hospital stay.
Easier accessibility to testing can support you in determining the best form of treatment for your sleep apnea, ultimately helping you avoid the long-term health consequences of chronic sleep and oxygen deprivation brought on by sleep apnea.
Vick Tipnes is CEO of Blackstone Medical Services, the market leader in home sleep testing. We are a nationally recognized IDTF (independent diagnostic testing facility), Medicare approved and hold the seal of approval from the Joint Commission (JCAHO). We also provide coverage for over 14 million lives throughout the country.