When you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, a sleep study is usually essential to getting to the bottom of the problem and finding the right solution. For years, the only option was an overnight, in-lab sleep study. For many patients, the idea of an overnight visit to a sleep lab connected to a harness of wires is intimidating enough to prevent them from seeking help. The good news is, times have changed. Now there are high-quality in-home tests– including phone apps– that can provide enough information for diagnosis.
What Is A Sleep Study?
Traditionally, sleep apnea was diagnosed using a complicated procedure that required patients to sleep in a lab overnight, with numerous sensors attached to their bodies to take measurements. The study allowed doctors to monitor the brain and body’s activities during sleep using an EEG and additional sensors to monitor oxygen levels, breathing, and heart rates. If you haven’t experienced this, you get the picture. Can you see yourself spending the night away from home with sensors placed on the head and body?
What Are The Alternatives To A Traditional Sleep Study?
In the past decade, terrific advancements have been made with smartphone apps and other technologies to test for sleep apnea outside of a lab environment. These simple, inexpensive technologies can check for sleep apnea much in the same way that complicated lab procedures do. They are designed to replicate the effectiveness of sleep lab studies at a fraction of the cost and with minimal disruption to patients’ lives.
Smartphone Apps to Monitor Sleep Apnea
A team of researchers at the University of Washington developed the Apnea App, which monitors the body during sleep. The Apnea App detects sleep apnea events by using a smartphone to monitor chest and abdomen movements. According to the company, the app transforms the phone into an active sonar system and uses algorithms to identify sleep apnea events based on sonar reflections. The technology even adapts to two people sleeping in the same bed by creating individual sonar profiles!
Another popular app, the MotionX Sleeptracker, uses a tiny accelerometer (much like a fitness activity monitor) to monitor motion during sleep. A clinical trial at the University of Minnesota compared the technology to a polysomnogram (the overnight test used in sleep lab studies) and showed that the Sleeptracker’s ability to detect events is “excellent” and compares favorably to in-lab testing.
Personal Pulse Monitoring For Sleep Apnea
Many patients have also had success in monitoring sleep apnea symptoms using wrist pulse oximeters. These watch-like devices are FDA approved and allow patients to monitor their sleep apnea by reading blood oxygen levels and pulse, in order to manage their conditions at home.
Sleep Apnea And Your Dentist
The field of dental sleep medicine is growing with the advent of highly effective oral appliances for sleep apnea treatment. In the same way that apps and mobile devices are bringing down the cost and burden of diagnosis, new technologies are bringing down the cost and burden of treatment. Dental mouthguards are proving to be as effective—or more effective—in treating sleep apnea than a complicated, hard to use CPAP machine in many cases. A mouthguard combined with personal monitoring technology can be an excellent solution for treating and managing sleep apnea.
Simplifying Sleep Studies—And Sleep Apnea Treatment
Advances in technology have made identifying and monitoring sleep apnea easier and more efficient. In the same way, the development of easy to use mouthguards makes sleep apnea easier to treat for many patients. In both cases, making things simpler takes the intimidation factor out of the process and makes it easier for patients to get help. If sleep apnea is a concern for you or a loved one, talk to your doctor—and your dentist—about options for diagnosis and treatment.