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What is a sleep study?

A sleep study is a test that can help diagnose certain types of sleep problems, such as obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, sleep hypoventilation, narcolepsy, and sleep-related seizures.

During a sleep study, the sleep specialist will place sensors on your child’s body to record a number of different body functions, including:

  • brainwaves
  • eye movements
  • muscle tone
  • breathing patterns
  • carbon dioxide and oxygen levels
  • heart rate and rhythm
  • leg movements

The sleep specialist may also record your child, using both audio and video, to watch your child's sleeping pattern and to assess and hear breathing and snoring during sleep.

What are the types of sleep studies?

There are a few types of sleep studies. Your child’s doctor will decide which type of the test is best for your child’s specific sleep problems:

  • Polysomnography (PSG) is a sleep study that’s done while your child sleeps in a sleep lab overnight. Your doctor may add additional leads to learn more about brainwaves for seizures and/or other problems during sleep.
  • A multiple sleep latency test (MSLT) monitors how quickly a child can fall asleep during the day when given opportunity to nap. This test measures a child’s sleepiness levels during the day.
  • A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) sleep study is used to study the treatment pressure to overcome obstructive sleep apnea in children. For this study, your child wears a mask connected to a CPAP machine that blows air at a precise pressure to help with breathing during sleep.

Sleep studies at Boston Children’s Hospital

The sleep laboratories at Boston Children’s are part of our Sleep Center, which was established in 1978. Founded by pediatric sleep medicine authority Richard Ferber, MD, the center is now under the leadership of director Judith Owens, MD. At the Sleep Center, specialists from several different fields — including neurology, pulmonology, developmental medicine, and nursing — work together to care for your child and to advance our understanding of children’s sleep disorders.

All of our doctors, nurses, and sleep lab technologists specialize in working with children, and every aspect of what we do is designed specifically for children.

Sleep Studies | Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get my child ready for the sleep study?

Wash your child’s hair thoroughly the night before or morning of the sleep study. Don’t use oil, gel, or hairspray. Reassure your child that you will stay with him or her through the whole test and that nothing should hurt.

What should we bring to the sleep laboratory?

You will want to bring any items your child will need during the night, such as pajamas, a favorite pillow and blanket, a bottle or pacifier, and any medications. You may also want to bring a DVD of a favorite movie so your child can watch it while we’re getting him or her ready.

If your child is having an overnight study, one parent or responsible caregiver must stay with your child. You may want to bring pajamas and other personal items for yourself.

Can my child sleep or eat before the sleep study?

Don’t let your child take extra naps on the day of the study — especially not right before the visit. Your child can eat before the study, but avoid caffeinated drinks or chocolate.

What happens during the sleep study?

After the technologist gets your child ready for the study, we will dim the lights and let your child go to sleep. You will stay in the room with your child. The technologist may enter the room during the night to make adjustments, but usually won’t have to wake up your child. In the morning (usually at 6 a.m.), the technologist will wake your child and remove the sensors. Most families leave by 7 a.m.

How do we get results of the study?

A doctor in the Sleep Center will interpret the results of your child’s sleep study and sends preliminary results to the doctor who ordered the study and to certain other doctors involved in your child’s care. We usually send out the full report within two weeks. Technologists do not give their impressions or preliminary results before the physician interprets the study.

Sleep Studies | Programs & Services