Home Sleep Study vs In-Lab Test (Which Apnea Test Is Best For You?)

Do you find yourself suffering from daytime fatigue and excessive sleepiness no matter how well you think you slept? Do you often wake up with headaches? Do you fall asleep at red lights or while watching TV? Do your family members complain about your loud snoring?

We all go through stressful periods that leave us feeling worn out at times, but if you answered yes to any of the questions above there might be something more to it. You may need a sleep study to determine if you have an underlying medical condition like Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Thankfully, advances in technology mean that this can be done safely and accurately from the comfort of your own bed or in the care of an expert sleep technician!

How Does a Sleep Study Work?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is an incredibly common and potentially dangerous sleep disorder, estimated to affect  22 million Americans. Researchers believe that up to 80% of moderate to severe cases of OSA remain undiagnosed, and that’s partly due to misconceptions about in-lab tests, or polysomnograms (PSG). 

Many people imagine staying overnight in a brightly-lit hospital room, where they’ll be hooked to hundreds of tubes and wires, and watched like a lab rat. While there was a time when this was true, sleep medicine has come a long way since then, and with good reason! To get an accurate diagnosis, you need to sleep the same way you would in your own home.

While you’re asleep, a few non-invasive sensors will monitor your breathing pattern, airflow, oxygen levels, and heart rate to determine the cause of your sleep problems.  

More advanced sleep studies may also keep track of your:

  • Respiratory effort (How difficult it is for you to breathe)
  • Brain waves
  • Arm and leg movement
  • Sleep position
  • Eye movements

What they look for and how they track it depends on whether you have your test done at a sleep clinic or with a home sleep apnea test (HST).

In-lab sleep studies, or polysomnography, are considered the gold standard for sleep tests. They’re exceptionally accurate, and are able to detect over 80 different sleep disorders beyond just sleep apnea!

During this test you’ll be given a private room at a sleep center, which usually feels more like a hotel room than a hospital. (Remember, they want you to be able to sleep!) A Sleep Specialist or Sleep Technologist will attach a few sensors to your head or body, and they may give you a small, lightweight air tube called a nasal cannula. Then they’ll leave you to relax, and monitor your sleep data in real-time from another room.

Since in-lab sleep tests track more kinds of information, they require more sensors than an at-home sleep study. However, by having staff members available to assist you with your test, you will rest easy knowing everything is hooked up correctly.

In-Lab Sleep Study

In-Lab Sleep Study Pros:

  • More accurate test results regardless of the severity of your sleep disorder
  • Done under the supervision of a healthcare professional
  • Can detect other sleep disorders, including Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), Narcolepsy, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, Restless Leg Syndrome, and others

In-Lab Sleep Study Cons:

  • Significantly more expensive than home sleep apnea testing
  • Requires you to stay overnight away from home
  • Requires more equipment and sensors

Some models may also require an airflow sensor for your nose or a chest-belt that measures respiratory effort, but even these require fewer points of contact than an in-lab sleep study. 

Instead of being monitored in real-time, these devices record your sleep data on a memory card, or an app for your smartphone that automatically transmits your results to a sleep technician via the cloud.

While they pick up less data than their in-lab counterparts, these at-home tests are extremely accurate, with the best boasting a 98% compliance rate and an 89% correlation to in-lab polysomnography results– at a fraction of the cost. In fact, at home sleep tests are typically two to four times more cost-effective than traditional sleep studies.

Home Sleep Study

A home sleep study offers a simpler and more comfortable alternative to an in-lab study, with the smallest versions requiring only a fingertip sensor!

These fingertip sensors are called Pulse Oximeters, and are some of the newest and most popular home sleep apnea testing devices. You may also see similar tests designed like watches or forehead sensors. Instead of monitoring your sleep, these wearable tests detect your heart rate and blood oxygen saturation, and sometimes your sleep position and body movement.

That said, while an at-home sleep study is very effective at detecting Obstructive Sleep Apnea, it may be less accurate at diagnosing mild cases of OSA. Also, a traditional sleep test will be more effective at diagnosing other disorders. Because of this, sometimes a home sleep study may need to be followed up with an in-lab sleep study. You should discuss your symptoms with a doctor to determine which method of testing is right for you.

Home Sleep Study Pros:

  • Costs less money
  • Done from the comfort of your own bed
  • Less equipment and fewer sensors to wear
  • Doesn’t require a time commitment
  • May be safer for homebound, elderly, or chronically ill patients (Especially when Coronavirus precautions need to be taken)

Home Sleep Study Cons:

  • May not accurately diagnose mild cases of OSA
  • Will ONLY diagnose sleep apnea, and not other sleep disorders
  • Some insurance companies may not accept the results of home sleep apnea tests

Frequently Asked Questions About Home Sleep Studies

Is An At-Home Sleep Study Accurate?

There are many different types of at-home sleep studies, and they range in accuracy depending on their methods and the severity of your sleep apnea. The WatchPAT, for example, boasts an 89% match with in-lab results. No matter the type, home sleep studies are more accurate for those with a higher risk of moderate to severe sleep apnea. Your primary care provider can help you determine if you are a good candidate for home sleep testing.

How Do I Prepare For a Home Sleep Study?

This is one test you can’t study for! In fact, you’ll want to keep your routine as close to normal as possible, with a few exceptions: 

  • Avoid napping before your sleep study
  • Avoid consuming caffeine or alcohol after mid-day
  • Ask your doctor or sleep physician about any medications you are currently taking

Do I Need a Prescription For a Home Sleep Study?

Whether you have your sleep study performed at a sleep center or with a home sleep study, you’ll usually need to get a prescription. Some online CPAP providers may offer over-the-counter HST kits, but these may not be covered by your insurance provider. 

Talk to your doctor or sleep physician about your symptoms to determine which option is right for you.

How Much Does a Home Sleep Study Cost?

Since there are many different types of home sleep study, you’ll find a wide range of costs. They typically range from $100 for simpler tests, to over $500 for more advanced technologies. 

Compare this to in-lab sleep studies which average between $1,000 to $3,000 or more.

Of course, if you’re using your health insurance the costs will vary based on the details of your coverage. Your deductible, coinsurance rates, and out-of-pocket maximum may all affect the end cost of the test.

Is a Home Sleep Study Covered by Insurance?

Many insurance providers, including Medicare, will cover a home sleep study– provided that it’s considered medically necessary. Because of this, you should always start with a prescription from your doctor. Contact your insurance company before purchasing the test to confirm your coverage options.

What Happens After a Home Sleep Study?

After you’ve used your study equipment, you’ll have to provide the data to your doctor or sleep technologist. Some HSTs will require you to mail in a memory card, while others send your data to the cloud via your smartphone. 

Unless your testing device is disposable, you’ll probably be required to return your equipment. 

Once the data has been analyzed, you’ll meet with your Sleep Specialist to discuss your test results and treatment options. If they discover that you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, you’ll probably be prescribed CPAP therapy. A CPAP machine is the most effective non-invasive treatment for sleep apnea, and there are hundreds of different styles, features, and options to ensure you get the best night’s sleep possible!

That’s where Aeroflow Sleep comes in! Your personal Aeroflow Sleep Specialist can help you decide which CPAP machine is best for you. They’ll contact your doctor and insurance provider directly to confirm your coverage and help you make the most of your insurance plan. Once you’ve selected your machine and supplies, your Specialist handles all of the paperwork for you. All you have to do is fill out our simple qualify form to get started today!