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Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

  • Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea may be suspected based on a person's symptoms. The doctor will look at the mouth, nose, throat, and neck. A visit to an otolaryngologist may be needed. This is a doctor who focuses on problems with the ear, nose, and throat.

The doctor may ask about sleep habits and snoring. They may ask if a bed partner has seen the person stop breathing. The doctor may ask how the person feels during the day.

There are two tests that can help diagnose sleep apnea:

The tests are often done in an overnight sleep lab. It is possible to do a form of the test at home.

Polysomnogram Test (Sleep Study)

Tiny stickers are attached to a person to watch heart rate, eye movements, brain waves, and muscle movement. Pulse, breathing, and body position will also be watched. A clip on the finger will also track how much oxygen is in the blood.

The number of times breathing is stopped or blocked will be noted.

The test may need to be done again for people with obstructive sleep apnea. This time a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is used. It delivers air pressure through a mask. It will help keep the airway open 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.


  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/condition/obstructive-sleep-apnea-osa-in-adults.
  • Sleep apnea—diagnosis. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea/diagnosis.
  • Snoring, sleeping disorders, and apnea. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.enthealth.org/conditions/snoring-sleeping-disorders-and-sleep-apnea.


  • Nicole S. Meregian, PA
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.