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How to prepare for a sleep study (polysomnogram)

When you are scheduled for a nocturnal polysomnogram, otherwise known as an attended sleep study, you may have lots of questions and concernsabout this kind of test.

Keep in mind that the sleep medicine technologists at most sleep centers are prepared for all of these inquiries; they are also trained to provide you with a safe, relaxing, and comfortable experience that’s based on your specific healthcare needs.

They understand that you will arrive anxious (most patients do) and that a night away from the comfort of one’s own bed may yield slightly different results.

However, these tests are conducted in a way that still allows for a full range of data collection for your sleep physician to interpret, and even if you don’t sleep as soundly as you would at home, you will still get enough sleep to provide adequate information for the doctor to review.

Most patients who come in thinking they will never fall asleep invariably do, with or without the help of a sleep aid. First night effect is real, but it shouldn’t intrude upon your testing outcomes. You will spend quite a bit of time, one on one, with your sleep technologist, and they can answer many, if not most, of the questions or concerns you have about your test.

Most sleep centers offer well-appointed sleep suites that include a bathroom, a large bed, multiple pillows and blankets, fans, noise machines, and television.

You may spend the entirety of your stay inside your suite, or you may be allowed to move around the facility (even while “hooked up”), depending upon the way the sleep center is arranged and whether it’s part of a hospital campus.

How to prepare for an overnight sleep study

Here are guidelines for preparing for your sleep test. They mirror the preparation recommendations of most sleep centers. Some rules are more specific to stand-alone sleep clinics, while others may be more useful for those participating in sleep studies at in-hospital labs.

Notice there’s both a “To Do” List and a “Not To Do” List. Each is quite specific about what to do (or what not to do) and why.

If you have other questions that these lists don’t answer, or need to make an exception to these requests, please don’t hesitate to call your sleep clinic to learn more.

“To Do” List

  • Stick to your routine. Aside from a few dietary restrictions (see below), you should go about your day as normal.

  • Men should shave. If you are normally clean shaven, make sure you come to the lab freshly shaved. If you have facial hair, groom it before arriving. Facial hair can interfere with sensor placement and the effectiveness of a CPAP mask, should you need to wear one during your test.

  • Shower ahead of time. Oily skin can make sensor placement difficult and lead to problems with data collection.

  • Remove red nail polish. A probe sensor will be placed on one of your fingertips; red or dark nail polish can distort the readings it provides for data collection.

  • Discontinue certain medications. This is at the advice of your physician. Some medications can greatly alter test results. You will be given a protocol for stopping them up to two weeks prior to your polysomnogram.

  • Eat your dinner before you arrive. There isn’t a lot of space for eating meals in your sleep suite and most labs are “fragrance free” for the comfort of all patients. You also don’t want to be eating too close to your bedtime.

  • Contact the lab if you expect to arrive early or late. Your sleep technologist is likely working with multiple patients and will need to adjust the timing of their workflow and tasks to accommodate shifts in the normal schedule.

  • Let the lab know of any special needs you might have. If you have nocturnal enuresis (bedwetting), a walker, need for a recliner or wedge pillow, or a caregiver who tends to your needs overnight, let the lab manager know.

    Keep in mind that patients who normally use overnight caregivers are usually expected to bring them to the study; most labs are prepared to accommodate them in adjacent rooms. This is because most sleep centers do not employ nurses during overnight hours, and sleep technologists are not trained in nursing protocols.

  • Communicate unexpected disruptions. If you suffered a loss during the day (a pet, a loved one, a job) or experienced something traumatic (a car accident, a house fire, devastating family news), you may need to reschedule for a night when you will be more likely to sleep.

“What to Bring” List

  • Your homework! This usually includes pre-test paperwork you received prior to your study, such as insurance forms, questionnaires, and a sleep diary.

  • A current medication list (name of medication, dosage, frequency of use). Your sleep technologist will need this information to update your medical record and to consider for sleep-related questions they might have.

  • Your usual nighttime medications. Prepare to take them as you normally would. If you have infrequent problems with congestion, minor pain, or heartburn, bring your over-the-counter medications. Sleep technologists are not legally allowed to dispense medications of any kind, and not all labs have a built-in pharmacy to handle last-minute needs.

    Don’t forget to tell your sleep technologist if you are using marijuana for sleeping (including what strain, what dosage, and the delivery system) or melatonin, as well.

  • Your sleep aid. Sleep physicians may prescribe something to help you sleep; bring it even if you think you won’t need it, just in case you do.

  • Sleepwear. You must be clothed during the sleep study. Many labs do not provide hospital gowns. A robe and slippers is recommended as you may need to walk outside your testing suite in some situations.

  • A favorite pillow, blanket, or other comfort item. The staff at the sleep center wants you to have every opportunity to relax and be comfortable.

  • An eye mask, earplugs, or a noise machine. If these are normally part of your nighttime ritual, don’t hesitate to bring them.

  • A light snack. This is recommended for those who are diabetic and need it to maintain blood sugar across the span of the test.

  • Basic toiletries. The stuff you normally take on an overnight trip: toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, deodorant, makeup remover, etc.

  • A hair dryer. Labs do not always supply these appliances.

  • Reading material, knitting, crossword puzzles, coloring books, or other relaxing projects. You will likely have waiting periods between hookup and the start of your test.

  • A change of clothes for the next day. Many people rise from their study and go straight to work after showering.

“What Not To Do” List

  • Napping. The goal of the test is to get the best possible snapshot of your sleep habits and sleep architecture.Naps can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.

  • Caffeine after lunch. This means beverages like coffee, tea, cocoa, energy drinks, and soda, but also foods that contain chocolate. Caffeine can stay in your system long enough to interfere with nighttime sleep.

  • Large amounts of alcohol before you arrive. A glass of wine with dinner is not problematic, but if you come in to the lab after several drinks or give the appearance of having consumed a lot of alcohol, this could greatly distort your test results and may be grounds for rescheduling the study.

  • Smoke. All sleep clinics are nonsmoking facilities and smokers will be asked to step outside to do so at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the actual study; they will also be asked to report when they smoke at any time prior to or during the study, as this can have an impact on sleep test data.

  • Come in with style. Styling products, that is. Hair gels and sprays can make testing difficult because they can create interference with the sensors that will be attached to your scalp. Makeup should also be removed from the face prior to the test.

  • Expect cell phone time at night. Cell phone use at night can directly impact your ability to fall asleep, due to blue light emissions from the screen and the overall engagement that talking or viewing can elicit. This goes for all handheld electronic devices.

    You may also be asked to turn of these devices for the entirety of the study as they emit ringtones, alarms, and notification chimes that can be very disruptive, not only to your sleep, but to other patients as well.

  • Pack your pet. Unless you have a certified service animal that you require in order to sleep, please leave your pets at home. While pets are great for reducing anxiety in some, for others, they can be a significant cause of anxiety.Sleep centers must provide environments for all of their patients which are quiet and free of pet dander.

While a visit to your local sleep center may seem like a plush overnight stay at a high-end hotel, it’s important to remember that you are going to the lab to participate in a sophisticated medical test.

Each sleep center suite is designed for your comfort and relaxation, but specific protocols assigned by your physician still need to be followed in order to collect adequate data for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

Because they are not medical doctors, sleep technologists cannot share results of patient tests, so please don’t ask them for a diagnosis. However, at the end of your study, they will advise you on what you will need to do following the completion of your test.

In the meantime, you may wish to download our free e-book below, Sleep Studies: Reasons, Types, Costs, and Fees , to learn more about the different terms that will be discussed in your study.


Alaska Sleep Clinic
American Academy of Sleep Medicine
UCLA Sleep Disorders Center

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