Trouble Sleeping? Find out what happens in a sleep assessment, Part 2

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

Read Part 2 of our three-part series about sleep assessments from our CMO, Mat Norbury's, experience. (Go back to Part 1.)

The home sleep assessment

Demand for sleep assessment is understandably high. Conditions like insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea can be the underlying problem to other serious health concerns such as mood disorders, heart, respiratory and circulatory problems. In general, everyone at some time has difficulty sleeping.

Home sleep tests are now pretty easy to do and provide detailed data. They free up sleep clinic spaces and will likely be offered to anyone with mild to moderate complaints and no obviously serious health concerns.

In my case, I was offered a wrist device much like a very chunky fitbit and a gadget that fit in a small briefcase with a lot of wires to connect to myself. Being a gadget guy, this was all quite exciting. However, despite going through how to use it with a nurse, it may not be for everyone. It was a bit overwhelming when I tried to use it that night.

The wrist device measured movement and heart rate. I think the clinic may have been using it to compare with the more expensive and complicated larger gadget. I think I signed some form agreeing to pay them £5,000 if I didn't return it. Or was it more like £15,000?

The bigger gadget had everything you might recognise from a TV polygraph scene. There was a strap around the chest to measure breathing. There were wires with sticky patches for an ECG heart monitor. I also had a little tube in my nose for air flow. It probably took me over 30 minutes to get everything connected and then a long time to fall asleep. Everything had the requisite flashing lights and beeping noises of medical equipment, but I couldn't see anything happening. It has to be downloaded into proprietary software to be displayed and analysed.

The assessment at the clinic

The results of the home sleep assessment were –– frustratingly –– inconclusive.

I got scheduled for an assessment in a specially equipped bedroom in the hospital. It's not often someone of my modest means (and relatively good health) sees a private single hospital bedroom these days!

The room had a lot of the same sensors as the home test, just more of them. In addition, the nurse fitted me with a full EEG gadget containing around 30-50 sensors, fixed to the scalp with special glue, for measuring brain activity. All the wires lead into a panel in the headboard. In addition, there were night vision cameras and probably something that analysed my phone and responded to my emails while I was asleep. The whole tangle took almost an hour to connect me up, even though the nurse doing it was obviously very practised and skilled. Once connected, I was literally tied to the bed.

I can't say I had the best night's sleep. My movement was limited and I was a bit afraid of tangling or disconnecting something. I took ages to drop off and recall feeling like I wasn't fully asleep for most of the night.

Inevitably, I had to pee at some point. It took ages for me to wake up enough to press the buzzer and when I did the nurse brought me a big cardboard cup for the purpose. Unfortunately, that sort of thing is not easy to use at the best of times. Being told "I'll just turn off the cameras before you start" doesn't help.

I woke up groggy and fully expected someone to say they didn't get any data they could use. They didn't and I was treated to rolls with jam and some tea before leaving the hospital.

Find out what happens next in Part 3, and the final chapter, of the of this sleep assessment series.