Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea
by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Your doctor may suspect sleep apnea based on your symptoms. An exam of your mouth, nose, throat, and neck will be done. You may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Known as otolaryngologist.
You will be asked about your sleep habits. The doctor will ask if you snore and if your bed partner has seen you stop breathing. You will also be asked about daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and if you fall asleep easy. You may be asked to fill out a form with questions.
There are two tests that can help in the diagnosis of sleep apnea:
The tests are often done in an overnight sleep lab. However, it is possible to do a form of the test at home.
Polysomnogram Test (Sleep Study)
Tiny stickers are attached to your body. They will monitor your heart rate, eye movements, brain waves, and muscle movement. Pulse, breathing, and body position will also be watched. A clip on your finger will also track the amount of oxygen in the blood.
The number of times breathing is stopped or blocked will be noted.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you may have the same test again. This time a CPAP machine will be used. CPAP is continuous positive airway pressure. It delivers air pressure through a mask. It will stop the collapse of your airway during sleep. The first test may be split in half. The CPAP will then be used for the second half. This is called a split-night study.
Multiple Sleep Latency Test
This test is usually done the day after the sleep study. The same set of stickers are still attached. You will be asked to take a series of 20-minute naps, every 2 hours throughout the day. How quickly you fall asleep and how quickly you reach various levels of sleep will be recorded. A level of sleep called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep will be recorded. This test can help determine your level of daytime sleepiness. If you fall asleep in 5 or fewer minutes, it may be a sign of extreme sleepiness. This test is most often done to look for other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy.
Other tests may be needed if central sleep apnea may be present. It will help to find any underlying medical conditions. Possible other tests include:
How is sleep apnea diagnosed? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed February 6, 2019.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated January 18, 2019. Accessed February 6, 2019.
Snoring and sleep apnea. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Last Updated August 2018. Accessed February 6, 2019.
Last reviewed December 2018 by Marcie L. Sidman, MD
Last Updated: 2/6/2019
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