Chances are, if you’ve ever struggled to fall asleep or stay asleep, you’ve likely consulted Dr. Google about your zzz habits.
Perhaps you’ve asked the internet whether it’s normal to keep waking up at 3 a.m. for no reason, even though you were able to fall asleep just fine.
Maybe you’ve wondered whether other people toss and turn as much as you do or whether there’s actually something clinically wrong with your sleep patterns. Possibly, in the blurry haze of a middle-of-the-night internet deep dive, you’ve stumbled upon the advice to get checked out in an overnight sleep facility and wondered: What even are those, really? What actually happens if you go to one? Are they scary? Are they weird? Is it creepy to know that someone is watching you while you sleep? Are they the right solution for you?
There are 120 different kinds of sleep-wake disorders, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reports that one-thirdTrusted Source of U.S. adults usually get less sleep than is recommended.
With this in mind, we checked in with three top sleep experts around the country to find out everything you need to know about sleep facilities. Consider this your A-to-zzz guide.
How one qualifies for a sleep study
There are a few steps you need to take before you go to a sleep facility, if your doctor even recommends that you go to one at all. Recognizing that you have a sleep issue that could benefit from medical intervention is the first step in this process. All of the doctors we spoke with said the key to figuring that out is to look at your daily activity: Are you impacted by your previous night’s sleep during the day?
“If your lack of sleep is not something that affects what you’re doing during the daytime, then it is probably OK,” says Hussam Al-Sharif, MD, a sleep medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Wisconsin.
“But when your sleep troubles start to have an effect on your work, your relationships, your activities, and/or your quality of life, then it’s time to think about seeking advice to see what’s going on.”
Once you recognize that you have a sleep issue, the next step is to see your primary doctor, who will then refer you to a sleep specialist (also a doctor). That sleep specialist will ask you a series of general questions to pinpoint what services you may or may not need.
“We look at all sorts of factors, beginning with a patient’s medical history, occupation (especially if they work night shifts), and sleep habits (bedtime, wakeup time, sleep environment, anything their partners have told them about their nighttime behavior),” explains Al-Sharif.
After that, they go into your daytime habits:
- How sleepy do you feel during the day?
- Does this impact your work performance, and in what ways?
And finally, the sleep specialists gather what they call objective data:
- How likely are you to doze off while reading or watching TV?
- How much alcohol and caffeine do you drink during the day?
- Are you currently taking any medications or supplements that interfere with sleep?
“Once we have gathered all this information, we decide if their issue can be solved by changing their sleep hygiene [i.e., good sleep habits], or if they need further testing,” Al-Sharif continues.
If you have insomnia, for example, you likely don’t need further sleep testing, as it’s already clear that you don’t sleep — so your doctor may refer you to an insomnia specialist (a sleep doctor with a specialty in psychology) who can help you figure out what may be keeping you up.