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Pros and Cons: Sleep Lab Study vs. Home Sleep Study

Posted On December 9, 2013
December 09, 2013

A good night of sleep has evaded you for the very last time. Finally, you took the first step in trying to get an answer and diagnosis for your sleep condition. You made an appointment with a physician who ordered the next stop on your journey toward discovery: a sleep study (or polysomnogram). But for the most part, all sleep studies are not created equal and you have a new decision to make. Your choice is either a study at a sleep lab or one performed at home. What should you do?

First, you need to understand what the minimal amount of information a sleep study will give your physician. The data captures oxygen blood levels, air flow through your nose as you breathe, snoring level and chest movement. If your sleep issue is complex, a study will need to analyze brain activity, eye movement, blood pressure and heart rate.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), the number of accredited sleep labs has increased four-fold over the past 10 years. Reason? In the past, the studies were exclusively performed at a hospital but today free-standing sleep labs are another option along with home sleep study testing. A study at a sleep lab might take one overnight stay. If a diagnosis of sleep apnea is discovered, the study might be extended over two nights to test out continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) as a treatment option.

There are advantages and disadvantages for each type of sleep study. There is a big discrepancy in cost, which is a major factor with regard to what insurance companies are willing to cover. For instance, an average cost of a sleep study in a hospital lab is $1,900 as opposed to as little as $380 for a home study kit. In fact, back in 2008, Medicare started covering the cost of home sleep tests. Today many insurance companies are requiring pre-authorization from your physician along with an explanation as to whether or not you might qualify for a home sleep study versus a test performed at an accredited lab.

Sleep studies in a lab will be able to determine whether or not your sleep issue is caused by a breathing disorder (sleep apnea), seizures, limb movements or extreme daytime sleepiness (narcolepsy). This study is closely monitored by a technician as electrodes are strategically placed to evaluate sleep, breathing and other vital functions. With a home sleep study, you have a portable monitor that your physician will order and still need to pick up from his or her office as well as learn how to operate.

While less expensive and nice to know that you can sleep and be tested in the comfort of your own home, home testing is not for all people. Folks might be too ill, unable to travel or not capable to perform the test on their own, and so the best choice might be a study in a sleep lab. Although home testing does provide an accurate diagnosis in 70 to 80 percent of cases, it is also estimated that technical failure occurs at a rate as high as 20 percent. According to former President of the AASM, Nancy Collup, MD, in evaluating for a suspected sleep apnea diagnosis, testing relies on the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI)—the number of instances whereby breathing has stopped during the span of an hour—is a measurement that can widely vary. Home studies tend to underestimate this index, which is vital to an accurate diagnosis of sleep apnea severity.

If you need a sleep study or already have one, we can help you solve your sleep issues. Please contact one of our medical concierges today at  to schedule a free consultation.

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Communications for Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America, manages all content and communications for the company.
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