Persistent trouble falling or staying asleep at night or frequent drowsing by day is not normal, nor is it inevitable with age. There are different types of sleep problems. Some of them can mask an underlying medical disorder and others are commonly associated with certain types of illness and conditions.

Sleep disorders are common among Americans, and they result in diminished quality of life and personal health. Researchers have linked lack of sleep to increased risk for medical problems and to heightened risk for accidents.

It is important to understand the underlying cause of a sleep disturbance, and there are many treatments available to help restore the body’s natural ability to sleep. If you are experiencing persistent problems with sleep, talk with your doctor. A sleep study at Sentara Martha Jefferson Sleep Medicine Center may be the next step in getting you back to healthy sleep.

What is a Sleep Study?

Sleep problems are vastly common. But you don’t have to live with sleep problems as a part of your life. The problem simply needs to be diagnosed and treated, just as other health issues that arise.

A sleep study is a painless series of tests performed in an overnight setting that evaluate an individual's sleep patterns to determine if they have a sleep disorder that can be addressed. The type of test used to evaluate the patient depends on the type of sleep problem the individual is having, but the tests are generally similar.

A patient is hooked up with various electrodes that measure brain wave activity, which allows us to determine if the patient is asleep or awake and what stage of sleep they are in. The patient then goes to sleep normally and the test begins. If the patient wakes up or has difficulty sleeping, the study helps determine why.

After the study is over, the individual leaves the sleep center the next morning. The study is read by one of our fellowship-trained sleep medicine experts, who then follow up with the patient in the sleep medicine clinic.

Evaluating Sleep Disorders

One or several tests may be required to determine the nature and extent of a sleep disorder. Specially trained technologists and physicians who are specialists in sleep medicine administer and interpret the tests. During the test, measurements are recorded to identify sleep stages and sleep problems.

Tests Offered at the Sleep Medicine Center

  • The nocturnal polysomnogram: A nighttime study that evaluates many physiologic aspects while sleeping. parameters include brain, eye and muscle activity and movements, breathing patterns, snoring quality and intensity, oxygen requirements, nocturnal seizures or abnormal sleep behaviors.
  • The nocturnal polysomnogram with treatment: A nighttime study similar to that described above but with an additional therapy such as positive airway pressure (CPAP or BI-PAP) or an oral/dental appliance.
  • The nocturnal split night polysomnogram: A combination of the above two polysomnograms used in cases where a severe and medically significant sleeping pattern is identified. In these cases, a person will be placed on some type of therapy after two to four hours of technical observation and documentation, after which, the study will resume for the remainder of the night.
  • The Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) or Maintenance of Wakefulness Test (MWT): Daytime studies that evaluate the ability to resist staying awake or the urge to fall asleep
  • Pediatric sleep studies: Similar to the nocturnal polysomnogram, but using equipment specially fitted for children. A parent spends the night with the child.