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Should You Try a Home Sleep Test for Apnea?

Have you ever suspected you had sleep apnea, but didn’t want to go through the ordeal of getting tested overnight in a sleep clinic or hospital lab? The results of a new Australian study may help you rest easier: A simplified sleep testing device that can be used at home may be as effective as laboratory-based testing for detecting the condition, which is characterized by repeated episodes of interrupted breathing during sleep.

The home sleep test, which should be prescribed by a sleep specialist, consists of a portable monitoring system (a small recording device, sensors, and belts) that you wear as you sleep in your own bed, over one to three nights.

In the study, more than 400 adults, ages 25 to 80, with sleep apnea symptoms (snoring, daytime sleepiness)—and whose doctors already suspected they had the disorder—were tested overnight with a full polysomnography (the gold standard of sleep tests, which records brain waves, heart rhythms, airflow and breathing patterns, eye and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels). A random group of patients was retested using a home sleep apnea test (although in the study the test was simulated in a lab), which records fewer types of data than the full test.

Regardless of the sleep tests used, a similar proportion of patients in each group were diagnosed as having moderate to severe sleep apnea. Outcomes were equally favorable among patients whose doctors received either simulated home testing data or full polysomnography results, suggesting that home testing can help doctors plan successful sleep apnea treatment.

While home tests aren’t new—current guidelines support their use with some restrictions, and Medicare and many health insurers cover them—they’re rising in popularity, partly because they’re considerably cheaper than full in-lab sleep tests.

If your doctor suspects you have sleep apnea, an at-home sleep test can help confirm a diagnosis. If the test doesn’t detect apnea, however, your doctor may order a full test if he or she is still reasonably suspicious that you may have the disorder.

A 2015 study revealed that 24 percent of patients, mostly over age 50, were diagnosed with sleep apnea during a full test after their home tests were negative. Also, you shouldn’t use the home test if you have other sleep disorders or serious health problems, such as heart or lung disease.

Annals of Internal Medicine, published online 1/17

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