Trouble Sleeping? Find out what happens in a sleep assessment, Part 1

Sleep assessment is becoming an increasingly common clinical tool for diagnosing many underlying health issues. #sleepstudy #healthtech #zzzrest #bettersleep #sleepscience

This is Part 1 of our three-part series about sleep assessments as told through the experience of our CMO, Mat Norbury.

I was having some trouble sleeping that just seemed to drag on for ages so I asked my GP about getting a sleep assessment. This was long before wearable, easy-to-use, consumer health-tech were being developed. Most of the consumer tech at the time was pretty expensive, so my doctor was my first port of call. It was a useful exercise but dragged on for months and months and offered me mixed results.

When I told my GP about my dad's sleep apnea diagnosis, he referred me to the local sleep clinic for assessment. The thinking was that treating my dad's apnea lead to improvements in other health complaints he had. For me, an assessment could help me improve my sleep but also identify related health issues.

Sleep clinics are becoming a more common feature of medical practice as research identifies sleep's impact on general health. Even though the wait may be long in the UK, it's possible to get full sleep assessment and treatment of underlying issues completely free on the NHS. Private assessments are also available; one London-based clinic offers home sleep assessment for around £500.

The assessment was in three stages. This included:-

  1. Completing questionnaires and sleep diaries to learn more about how my sleep was affecting me and providing lifestyle information helped prioritise my place in the queue;
  2. A one-night home test using some pretty impressive gadgets; and
  3. A single night in a wired-up room at the local hospital's dedicated sleep clinic (continental breakfast included).

During these three stages of assessment, there were a couple of sleep clinic appointments to allow us to work together and decide how to proceed, including showing me how to use the equipment and discuss the results.

Not everyone will go through all of the above. Why I did will become clearer below.

Referral Questionnaire

Ask your family doctor about sleep and chances are he or she will ask you to complete the Epworth Sleepiness Scale questionnaire. It's a few self-ratings of how you feel during the day, how often bad sleep affects you, etc. These ratings result in a score.

The questionnaire is not that different from a "What kind of Harry Potter character are you" quiz, except some questions are a bit scary, like rating your likeliness to drop off while driving along the motorway. Also, unlike your typical internet quiz, it was developed from some solid clinical research in the 1990s and has been subjected to ongoing validation and improvement since. The test and its scoring are subject to copyright, so we won't duplicate it here.

Other questionnaires from the NHS ask:-
  • what the impact of your sleep is on your daily life,
  • your sleeping conditions,
  • about your sleep and its impact on your partner, other aspects of work and home life, etc.
The results of these give an overall picture of your lifestyle and how sleep impacts it. It's important to be as accurate, detailed and as honest as possible. Under or overstating the situation could lead you and the clinicians in the wrong direction.

What constitutes sleep trouble?

Sleep trouble can include but is not limited to:-
  • problems falling asleep,
  • problems staying asleep,
  • feeling tired, fatigued or event exhausted in the morning, and
  • experiencing physical discomfort or pain when you wake.

Find out what happens next in Part 2.