My Night in the Lab: What a Sleep Study Really Feels Like

Eric Fields, an attorney living in Hartsdale, N.Y., finally gets answers about his poor sleep and disruptive snoring

After his sleep study, Eric (here with his wife and daughter) was surprised to hear how loud his snoring really was.
My wife has trouble sleeping because of snoring, irregular breathing, and teeth grinding: mine. I've been reluctant to address my problems, though I'm often tired due to poor-quality sleep; I sometimes doze on the couch like my dad did when I was growing up. Recently I decided to get help after reading that untreated sleep conditions can cause heart disease. Plus, I don't want to get banished from the bedroom.

The initial appointment
I visited a certified sleep center in New York City, where my new doctor, Omar Burschtin, MD, looked into my mouth and told me I have a “floppy palate,” which can cause snoring. My wife had written down a description of my nighttime noises ahead of time, because she knew I wouldn't be able to explain them myself. Here's what she wrote: "When you are asleep and lying on your back, sometimes you make a loud snoring noise that tapers off to a quieter snoring noise (with shorter inhales) with subsequent breaths. Eventually, you seem like you are barely breathing in any air at all, your breaths are so short. Then you make a quick snorting noise (maybe to get air) that seems to wake you a little because it makes you shift positions."

When I read that to the doctor, he agreed that it sounded like obstructive sleep apnea—a collapse of the upper airway during sleep that leads to interrupted breathing.

Dr. Burschtin recommended an overnight sleep study for an official diagnosis. I was hesitant because my father complained about a sleep study he'd done once; his doctor prescribed an uncomfortable continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask to correct his sleep apnea by opening his airway with pressurized air. He'd tried to wear it a few times, but gave up quickly because he said it was too difficult to sleep.

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Since I have my dad's sleep habits, I worried about needing a mask. But Dr. Burschtin explained that CPAP wasn't the only possible solution: Surgery and dental appliances were options, depending on my symptoms. So I agreed to give it a try.

Spending the night
The day of the study, I felt anxious about sleeping in front of a video camera, but I showed up for my 10 p.m. appointment, answered a sleep-habit questionnaire, and entered my room. It looked like a simple three-star hotel room, minus the TV and clock. “We wanted to reproduce normal life as much as possible,” Dr. Burschtin told me. The video camera aimed at the bed reminded me I wasn't at the Hilton.

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Last Updated: July 30, 2008

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