How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

If your doctor determines that you have symptoms suggestive of sleep apnea, you may be asked to have a sleep evaluation with a sleep specialist or may order an overnight sleep study to objectively evaluate for sleep apnea.

  • Testing includes an overnight sleep study called a polysomnogram (PSG). A PSG is performed in a sleep laboratory under the direct supervision of a trained technologist. During the test, a variety of body functions, such as the electrical activity of the brain, eye movements, muscle activity, heart rate, breathing patterns, air flow, and blood oxygen levels are recorded at night during sleep. After the study is completed, the number of times breathing is impaired during sleep is tallied and the severity of the sleep apnea is graded.
  • For adults, a Home Sleep Test (HST) can sometimes be performed instead. This is a modified type of sleep study that can be done in the comfort of home. It records fewer body functions than PSG, including airflow, breathing effort, blood oxygen levels and snoring to confirm a diagnosis of moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea.

An HST is not appropriate to be used as a screening tool for patients without symptoms. It’s not used for patients with significant medical problems (such as heart failure, moderate to severe cardiac disease, neuromuscular disease or moderate to severe pulmonary disease). It’s also not used for patients who have other sleep disorders (such as central sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, parasomnias or narcolepsy) in addition to the suspected obstructive sleep apnea.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/03/2020.

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