Sleep is such a major part of our lives. For a set amount of hours each day, we will lie down, fall unconscious, and recharge our bodies and mind. According to most experts, we may spend around a third of our lives asleep. Getting enough and making sure it is of sufficient quality are essential to our overall well being.
The role of sleep in our lives
The biological role that sleep plays in our lives is only just beginning to be understood. Scientists have recently discovered the neurological role of sleep in clearing toxins built up in the brain during the day. Research has also shown that a lack of sleep can increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.
Sleep monitoring and testing
The importance of sleep has led to the rise of sleep monitoring and testing, known as polysomnography, as people seek treatment for sleep disorders or to improve their sleep quality. In the past, doctors and researchers focused on sleep deprivation as the main type of sleep problem. However, research has shown that sleep deficiency is a more accurate way of talking about sleep problems. The term refers to several different sleep issues, such as insufficient sleep or having a sleep disorder.
A sleep study is typically done by going to sleep labs or centers. In lab polysomnography, a patient is attached to various wires and electrodes strategically placed around the body to measure specific biological rhythms as they sleep. These include breathing, eye movement, brain waves, blood oxygen level, and heart rate and rhythm, among other factors. The benefit of lab sleep studies is continuous monitoring, which means that any abnormalities can be picked up immediately. If one of the wires or electrodes falls out, they can quickly be reattached.
Home sleep testing
With the advancements in sleep technologies, the ability for a person to monitor their sleep patterns and conditions from home has increased. Before, you would have needed large and expensive sleep test devices to track sleep patterns. Now, a portable device attached to a finger oxygen probe, chest belt, and nasal tube can perform these functions-all while you lie in the comfort of your own bed.
A sleep condition that has noticeably increased in more recent years is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder causing periods of breathing difficulties while sleeping. This difficulty can occur either because the airway during sleep becomes obstructed (obstructive sleep apnea) or the brain is not sending the signals needed to breathe (central sleep apnea). A sleep physician will often use sleep studies to diagnose sleep apnea and track the number of respiratory events in an hour of sleep. The health consequences of undiagnosed sleep apnea include an increased risk of cardiac disease, glaucoma, and diabetes.
Home sleep apnea testing
With the increase in sleep apnea cases, there has been a rise in the development of home sleep apnea testing (HSAT) devices. Previously used by doctors to monitor your condition, today’s new generation of devices can now be used for diagnostic testing of sleep apnea. They are also much easier to use. Patients with sleep apnea need to be shown how to use the portable device by the doctor or nurse, and then they can take it home. The sleep physician can then download the recorded data when the patient returns for their follow-up consultation.
Smartphones, apps, and wearable technology
Another area where home testing is rising is advancements in smartphones, apps, and wearable technology. Many smartphones and watches can now track your sleep through a sensor with varying degrees of accuracy. This information can be downloaded into third-party apps often as part of a record of general health data.
With the improvements that are being made to the battery lives and sensors of smartphones and wearables, you may not, in the future, need a separate device to monitor sleep patterns and conditions. They may also become useful in discovering undiagnosed sleep apnea, especially in people who live alone.