Sleep study

A sleep study is a test to see what happens to your body when it is asleep. When we are asleep, we are not usually aware of what is happening with our basic functions. For example our breathing can become laboured, we can snore or make funny movements. This page from Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) explains what to expect when your child arrives to have a sleep study.

You might not even think to talk to your doctor about these issues although your child may be tired during the day as a consequence. The doctor might suggest that your child has a sleep study if they suspect they have a sleep related disorder, like sleep apnoea or hypoventilation.

Why does my child need to have a sleep study?

It is important to diagnose if your child has a sleep related disorder because the consequences of leaving it untreated can be significant in the long term.

Sleep related disorders can impact on the heart, the brain or on mood and behaviour. For example, having disturbed sleep at night might make your child tired the next day and make it difficult for them to concentrate at school.

In addition, there are conditions (ENT, craniofacial, neuromuscular, metabolic and others) which may mean your child is more vulnerable to sleep related breathing disorders and where a sleep study is helpful in guiding management.

If your child is using ventilation, it is also important for us to regularly check that it is helping with sleep or to adjust the settings if required.

What do we need to take for the sleep study?

It is essential that one parent or carer can stay overnight with your child for the sleep study. The parent/carer is responsible for the child’s care throughout the hospital visit. Due to lack of space, we cannot accommodate more than one parent or carer. You will require the following items with you:

  • Your child’s ventilator (for example, CPAP or BiPAP) if this is used by your child while at home. Remember to include all equipment (including the machine, masks, tubing and so on) so that we can check and service it during your stay.
  • Your appointment letter and associated paperwork.
  • Food for your stay – we cannot provide any meals during your stay, so we advise you to have your evening meal before you come to the hospital. The hospital canteen opens at 8am and there are also plenty of local cafes where you can have breakfast.
  • A small kitchen is available on the Sleep Unit with water fountain, tea and coffee facilities, microwave and fridge.
  • Anything else that your child usually sleeps with, such as a soft toy, special pillows, duvets or blankets. 
  • Any medication your child usually needs.

What will happen?

We will show you to your child’s bedroom where you can get settled and then a member of the sleep team and a doctor will come to talk to you about the sleep study in more detail. You will be required to fill a questionnaire on your child’s sleep on your arrival, although you may have already completed this if you have a MyGOSH account.. This is a chance for you to ask any questions you may have, so it might be a good idea to write some of them down before you come in. Please discuss with the overnight Sleep Physiologist if your child has any allergies (for instance, to tape or latex) or other devices fitted (for example, a pacemaker inserted).

Whenever your child is ready for bed, they will be set up awake which involves:

  • A soft probe is wrapped around your child’s toe to monitor their oxygen levels while asleep.
  • Two sticky ECG pads are placed on your child’s chest to measure their heart rate. 
  • Two stretchy bands are put around your child’s chest to record breathing movements.
  • A small position sensor is also placed on the chest to record in which position your child is sleeping.
  • A small tube will be placed on the edge of the nostrils to monitor breathing rates.
  • A small sensor will be stuck either on the thigh or below the collarbone to monitor carbon dioxide levels.
  • Video and audio of your child’s sleep will also be recorded
Once these sensors have been attached, your child will be able to sleep normally.

How long will the sleep study take?

Most sleep studies require a one night stay at GOSH. You will be informed in advance if it is likely to be any longer (for example, a CPAP or BiPAP trial may be for two nights).

Will it hurt?

Sleep studies are painless and there are no needles involved. The room you will have your sleep study in resembles a hotel room and you will be made to feel as comfortable as possible.

When can we go home?

When your child wakes up after their sleep study, a Sleep Physiologist will remove the sensors.

If the study ends on a weekday, a doctor will review your study, probably between 8:30am and 10am (although this may not always be possible) and talk to you about the preliminary results. If you wish to leave the unit to have breakfast before returning, you may.

If your child’s study ends on a weekend then the sensors will be removed at 7am and you may leave once this has been done. The Sleep Unit closes at 8am so please ensure you are ready to leave the Unit before this time.

Are there any risks or side effects?

There are no risks or long term effects, so you will be able to return to your normal routine once you leave.

Compiled by:
The Sleep Unit team in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group
Last review date:
August 2019