Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which a person stops breathing for short periods many times a night and then chokes and gasps to recover. It can lead to daytime drowsiness, problems concentrating, and impaired driving, and is linked to hypertension, heart disease, and increased mortality.
The gold standard for diagnosing sleep apnea is polysomnography, a test done overnight at a sleep clinic that measures heart rhythm, airflow, blood oxygen levels, brain activity, and other variables while you sleep. Home monitoring devices typically consist of a portable monitoring system (a small recording device, sensors, and belts) that you wear as you sleep in your own bed, over one to three nights.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, home testing can be an acceptable alternative for people with moderate to severe symptoms of apnea who don’t have other serious medical conditions (such as congestive heart failure or lung disease) or other sleep conditions (such as insomnia or narcolepsy) that may affect the results. But you should be evaluated first by a doctor board-certified in sleep medicine, who can also guide you in the proper use of the device. Home monitors may also be useful for people who can’t go to a sleep lab, and for checking the progress of treatment.
An Australian study in the Annals of Internal Medicine in early 2017 confirmed that home testing may be as effective as laboratory-based testing for detecting sleep apnea. It involved more than 400 adults, ages 25 to 80, with sleep apnea symptoms (snoring, daytime sleepiness)-and whose doctors suspected they had the disorder-who were tested overnight with full polysomnography. A group of them were then retested in a way that replicated the more limited data provided by home testing, which led to similar diagnostic results as full testing. Subsequently, a Spanish study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Management found that home testing was as good as lab-based polysomnography in detecting sleep apnea in people suspected of having the condition.
If you do home testing, the results must still be interpreted by a sleep specialist. And if the test says you’re okay but your symptoms persist, you’ll likely need full testing at a sleep clinic.