The Sleep Lab Experience Interview

Dr. John Wilson
John Wilson, MD - Sleep Lab Director for Loyola University Health System

Has your doctor suggested that you visit a sleep lab or do you wonder if a sleep lab may uncover the mystery behind your sleep problems? If you've never entered a sleep lab before, you probably have many questions. LoveToKnow interviewed Dr. John Wilson, neurologist and director of the Loyola University Health System Sleep Lab at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, so you know what to expect as you start your search for nighttime relief.

Sleep Lab Director: Dr. John Wilson

I am board certified in sleep. I have particular interest in disorders of sleep architecture. The brain waves have a normal structure during sleep, and if this structure is interrupted or does not happen normally, a person can have significant problems with daytime functioning.

Diagnosing Sleep Disorders

LoveToKnow (LTK): What are some reasons why someone would have to enter a sleep lab?

Dr. John Wilson (JW): The most common reason is snoring. Usually this is initiated at the behest of the patient's bed partner. Often, snoring is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, which can cause poor daytime functioning, but can also increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.

As a neurologist, I will often see people who have frequent headaches, symptoms of fibromyalgia, lack of concentration, uncontrolled seizures, or unusual movements at nighttime. These are also reasons for getting a sleep study.

LTK: What types of sleep disorders do you uncover in your sleep lab?

JW: In addition to sleep apnea, I am particularly aware of abnormalities in brain wave architecture which can result in non-restorative sleep. These can lead to the symptoms listed above.

LTK: How effective is a sleep lab in identifying the person's diagnosis?

JW: Most sleep labs are effective in diagnosing and treating sleep apnea, but additional measurements are often needed to evaluate abnormal EEG architecture in sleep. Many sleep labs do not do this extra step, and in my opinion, often miss important findings that can help the clinician treat non-respiratory sleep problems.

LTK: How does someone enter into a sleep lab?

JW: You need a referral from a physician to go to the sleep lab, much like an X-ray. As a physician who specializes in sleep, I can also discuss the problem with patients, and determine whether a sleep study is necessary.

LTK: Will the lab provide the results or will participants receive them from the referring physician?

JW: Generally, reports are sent to the referring physician, but patients are free to request the results as well. However, like X-rays, it is important to have the results interpreted by a physician who is knowledgeable.

The Sleep Lab Experience

LTK: How long does someone participate in a sleep lab for a diagnosis?

JW: The person stays overnight in the sleep lab.

LTK: What can someone expect during their stay?

JW: Though the process is terribly contrived - you have wires on your head, chest and legs, and you are in a strange room with a camera - most people are able to get some sleep overnight. I recommend the patient brings a pillow or something familiar with them to the sleep lab.

The test is not painful. Sometimes the wires do wake you up at night, but the technician is in the next room to make sure they are fixed if they fall off.

Sometimes, if someone has sleep apnea, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is started to alleviate symptoms. This involves placing a mask over one's nose and blowing air into the airway to prevent it from collapsing when one is asleep. The principle is much like that of a windsock.

Participating in a Sleep Lab Research Study

LTK: How do sleep labs help with research? Can people participate in studies? How would they find out about them?

JW: Many sleep labs participate in clinical research, but there is no clearinghouse for all available sleep research. The NINDS (National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke) or the American Sleep Association may be helpful for finding trials.

Tips from the Sleep Lab Expert

The main thing is to relax. Try to do as many of the things you normally do before sleep. We want this to be as close as possible to your normal sleep.

Special thanks to Dr. John Wilson for his expert advice.

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The Sleep Lab Experience Interview