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Everything you need to know about the sleep study

Everything you need to know about the sleep study

  • October 20, 2021

What is a sleep study? How does a sleep study work? Are Sleep Studies Painful? How do I prepare my child for the sleep study?

A dozen questions buzzed through my head when our pediatrician asked Dr. Indu Khosla, Pediatric Pulmonologist and Sleep Specialist, referred for our son Kiaan to undergo sleep studies. We had noticed that Kiaan dealt with situations much better if we explained to him beforehand what to expect. How on earth should I prepare him for sleep study when I was as clueless as he was! So here’s what I’ve learned if you’re in the same boat …

What is a sleep study?

Sleep study, also called polysomnography, is a test used to diagnose sleep disorders. Usually carried out at night, a sleep study monitors various parameters such as sleep stages, oxygen content, carbon dioxide content, snoring recording, leg movements, breathing patterns, recording of heart signals (EKG).

Why is a sleep study being done?

Sleep studies monitor your child’s sleep stages and cycles. Your pediatric sleep specialist will alert you to a sleep disorder if they suspect a disorder in your child’s sleep pattern for any of the following reasons:

  • Sleep apnea (a condition in which breathing stops and starts again during sleep) or other sleep-related breathing disorders
  • Swelling of the tonsils / adenoids
  • Down syndrome / attention deficit hyperactivity disorder / disorders of the nervous and muscular systems
  • obesity
  • Syndromes related to facial / skull abnormalities or syndromes related to obesity: Prader-Willi Syndrome, Laurence-Moon-Biedl Syndrome, ROHHAD
  • Unusual sleep behavior such as movement disorders such as periodic leg movements, restless sleep, sleepwalking, etc.

Children who suffer from any of the above conditions may have signs and symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, snoring and sleeping disorders, difficulty waking up, leg pain, night terrors, and poor sleep habits.

How does a sleep study work?

We visited the sleep lab with Kiaan at night for an overnight stay and left in the morning the next day. Our sleep laboratory technicians glue some sensors to the head (EEG leads for the brain signals), the chest (EKG leads for the heart activity) and the legs (EMG leads for the muscle activity) of your child.

A pulse oximeter would be attached to a finger to measure oxygen levels (very similar to what most of us now have at home). A pair of elastic bands (called respiratory effort bands) are placed across your child’s chest and stomach to measure their breathing pattern. A microphone and video camera record the sound (snoring if present) and the video (movements during sleep).

A small tube (called a nasal cannula) is placed over the face that has two prongs that sit right in your child’s nostrils. These measure the flow of gas out of your child’s nose. One parent can stay in the same room with the child all night.

I was worried that at some point during the night a cable or connection might tear because Kiaan is a restless sleeper. You don’t need to worry about that as the technician will monitor your child all night and will be available if you need any assistance.

It took them about 30-45 minutes to set up all of the connections. A small light stayed on. Since Kiaan was quite cooperative, all connections were made while he was awake. If your child is not feeling well, you can do so after your child falls asleep.

Are Sleep Studies Painful?

Sleep studies are not painful at all. No drugs or injections are given. No blood sample is taken. None of these sensors will be inserted into your child’s body and all of them will be placed on the surface of your child’s body. Kiaan loves getting stickers from his teacher and I told him that’s all we’d put on him.

How can you prepare your child for the sleep study?

Kiaan loved Dr. Indu Khosla always, as she was his pediatrician from the start. He was very excited about his “Slumber Party at Doctor Aunt’s House”.

We got to the sleep lab two hours before Kiaan’s usual bedtime to give him time to settle in to the new place.

  • Depending on how old your child is, you may want to explain what to expect.
  • Carry your child’s favorite toy, pillow or blanket in addition to the diapers / formulas / bottles / medication.
  • Put your child in the usual nightwear.
  • Make sure your child sleeps normally the night before.
  • Avoid chocolate, coffee, or sodas that contain caffeine.
  • Avoid napping on the day of the sleep study.

To my great relief, we got through the sleep study without any hiccups. I knew it was true for Kiaan too when he insisted on calling his nani the next morning to tell her about his little adventure!

Dr. Indu Khosla | Senior Consultant – Pneumology – Pediatrics | SRCC Children’s Hospital, Mumbai

Thank You For Reading!


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