Sleep is something we all need to function and thrive. We need to get enough sleep each and every night. And we need to get good quality sleep. Without it we just can’t perform to the best of our abilities. We lose mental focus and physical stamina. Most immediately, sleep disturbances undermine productivity. In the long term, they can lead to or worsen chronic illness.

One Harvard research study found that in a year, the average American worker loses 11.3 days of productivity due to poor sleep. Lack of sleep undermines cognitive function leading to slower reaction times, poor judgement, and poor decision making. It also worsens stress, fatigue, obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and mood swings.

Poor sleep quality and sleep disturbances can be caused by a number of things. It can be caused by something as simple as having your regular daily routine disrupted or as serious as having an ongoing health condition, like sleep apnea or narcolepsy. (Learn more in 3 Types of Sleep Apnea, How They're Treated, And How To Address Them In The Workplace).

One of the most effective ways to find out why someone is having trouble getting enough quality sleep is for them to go through a sleep study.

What Is A Sleep Study?

A sleep study is a medical test that measures how long and how well a person is sleeping. It measures the quality and duration of sleep, and it helps identify the cause of any sleep problems. Once the source of the sleep disturbance is identified, effective treatment can be prescribed.

Polysomnogram (PSG) is the most widely used form of sleep study. To do this kind of sleep study a person goes to sleep in a specially set-up laboratory or clinic. While there, they have various sensors attached to their body to record brain waves, breathing rate, heart beat, and some body movements throughout the night. They are also filmed while sleeping to record body movements. While the lab offers a quiet bedroom for the person to sleep in, the measuring instruments are set up in a separate room to capture the person’s data.

Most often people go to the sleep clinic for one night. During that night they will go through a Diagnostic Overnight PSG where their sleep is monitored, recorded, and measured.

Alternatively, they can go through a Split-night PSG with CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) Titration. The night begins with monitoring the person’s sleep as described above. If sleep apnea is identified as the cause of the sleep disturbance, the second part of the night focuses on configuring a medical device called a CPAP for the person to use to counter sleep apnea.

In some cases, the person will go through a two-night PSG. Sleep quality is evaluated during the first night and the CPAP configuration is done on the second night.

There’s a fourth kind of polysomnographic sleep study called a Diagnostic Daytime Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT). MSLT measures daytime sleepiness and is used to evaluate the person for narcolepsy, which is the tendency to involuntarily fall asleep during the daytime and in relaxed surroundings.

Why Do We Need Sleep Studies?

As with any medical ailment, sleep disturbances need to be diagnosed using a science-based method. Sleep studies capture the physical data needed for making a diagnosis.

1. Sleep studies uncover the cause of the person’s sleep disturbance

Sleep studies help identify why the person is having trouble sleeping. Based on the data gathered and the sleep behavior observed, sleep studies uncover what exactly is causing the sleep disturbance. What might sound like a snore might actually be sleep apnea, where the person repeatedly stops breathing through the night. (Learn more in 7 Fascinating Facts About Sleep Apnea And Workplace Safety).

2. Sleep studies measure the severity of the sleep disturbance

Sleep studies record how, how often, and how much of the night’s sleep is disrupted. Some of the things that disturb sleep include involuntary body movements, snoring, sleepwalking, and night terrors. The more time and more often these things happen, the more severe the effect on the person.

3. Sleep studies identify the best treatment for the sleep disturbance

Sleep studies uncover whether the person needs to improve their sleep hygiene or requires some kind of medical treatment to address their sleep disturbance. Things like using blackout curtains or avoiding caffeine in the afternoon can improve sleep hygiene. In other situations, specific medical treatment is called for. In the case of sleep apnea, treatment can include using a medical device like a CPAP or an oral appliance to keep airways open and functioning. For narcolepsy, medication might be prescribed.

Sleep As A Crucial Component In Health And Safety

For managers it might not be obvious why we should be concerned about the quality and quantity of sleep our workers get. However, the consequences in the workplace from sleep disturbances and sleep deprivation can create safety issues, productivity loss, and long term chronic illness that can lead to higher healthcare utilization costs. Knowing that everyone is arriving at work well-rested helps keep the workplace safe for everyone.