Currently, the only way to definitively know if you have sleep apnea is to have a formal sleep study. These can now either be done the traditional way, a nighttime study in the sleep lab, or via a home sleep apnea test. Other tests like overnight pulse oximetry (oxygen level monitoring studies) or ones that smartphones offer can only be used for screening purposes. Be careful though because some home sleep studies are simply used for screening purposes by providers like dentists. The question to ask is, "Will a board-certified sleep doctor interpret the study and provide a report?"
If the sleep study shows that your apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) is >5 events per hour, then you have sleep apnea.
How Do I Know If I Should Get A Sleep Study?
There are a number of common symptoms that indicate an increased risk for sleep apnea. If you have one or more of these you might consider a sleep study:
- chronic snoring
- witnessed apneas - episodes where others have heard you stop breathing in your sleep
- waking up gasping or choking - or others have heard you do this
- waking up in the morning after a night's sleep and still feeling tired
- morning headaches
- excessive daytime sleepiness or fatigue
Of these symptoms, witnessed apneas are the most specific for sleep apnea with a positive predictive value of 80% for the disorder. That means that if people have heard you stop breathing in your sleep, there's an 80% chance that a sleep study will show sleep apnea.
Joseph Krainin, M.D., FAASM is the founder of Singular Sleep, the world's first online sleep center. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and board-certified in both sleep medicine and neurology. He has been practicing medicine for over 10 years.