When you think you may have sleep apnea, the typical first step is to talk to your doctor about it. If you do not have a doctor, you might want to go to a clinic where you can see a specialist. Always be sure to check your insurance coverage to see what the policies are and what is covered. If you only have a small amount of coverage, you may want to switch insurance companies.
You should always make sure to have the specific details of your medical history on hand. This should make it easier for any doctors to help make their diagnosis.
Sleep specialists can come from several different backgrounds. The study of sleep is not limited to just one science, and people who study neurology, pulmonology, and otolaryngologists can be well versed in this area. Some general physicians have a lot of experience as well. At the American Board of Sleep Medicine you can double-check the records of specialists. If you are getting advice from a doctor it may be a good idea to ask them about their background and credentials.
A firm diagnosis of sleep apnea can only be done with a sleep study conducted overnight at a lab. A sleep study will monitor your physical activity during rest, usually over six hours or so. This will include measuring brain waves, plus eye movements along with breathing and heart rate. None of this hurts at all, and needles are not used. The scientific name for the testing is known as a polysomnography. The room where the testing is taking place is very comfortable, and usually the atmosphere is more akin to a home or motel room rather than that of a laboratory.
Sometimes a physician might suggest a split-night experiment, where the first part is dedicated to diagnosis. If sleep apnea is detected, the patient is given a device to help increase pressure in their airway. It is then seen how much this helps.
A lot of information is gathered by a sleep study, but the most critical is the apnea-hypopnea index. Apnea means that you stop breathing for ten seconds or more. Hypopnea is a restricted breath longer than ten seconds. The index number measures the total number of these every 60 minutes. A number from 5-15 means mild sleep apnea. 15-30 is moderate. More than that means severe sleep apnea.
Lack of action about the problem could result in even larger health problems down the road.