Sleep study

This page explains what to expect when your child arrives to have a sleep study.

A sleep study is a test to record what happens to the body when it is asleep. When we sleep, 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.

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 (e.g. ENT, craniofacial, neuromuscular, metabolic and others) which may make your child more susceptible to sleep related breathing disorders and a sleep study is helpful in guiding management in these cases.

If your child is using ventilation, a sleep study is used to regularly check that it is helping or to adjust the settings if required.

What do we need to take with us 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. Remember to pack the following items with you:

  • Your child’s ventilator (for example, CPAP or BiPAP) if this is used while at home. Take all equipment (ventilator, masks, tubing etc) 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 plenty of local cafes for 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 once we arrive?

A member of the sleep team will take you to your child's bedroom to get settled. A Doctor and a Sleep Physiologist will then talk to you about the sleep study in more detail. You will be required to complete a sleep questionnaire, if you have not already completed this online by your 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 inform the Sleep Physiologist if your child has any allergies (for instance, to tape or latex) or has other devices fitted (for example, a pacemaker inserted).

While awake and ready for bed, your child will be prepared for the study; this involves:

  • a soft wrap placed around the toe to record their oxygen levels while asleep
  • two sticky ECG pads are placed on your child’s chest to measure heart rate
  • two stretchy bands are placed around the chest to record breathing movements
  • a small sensor is placed on the chest to record sleeping position
  • a small tube is taped at the edge of the nostrils to monitor breathing rate
  • a small sensor is taped on the thigh or collarbone to record carbon dioxide
  • a video and audio recording of your child’s sleep will also be made

Once these sensors have been attached, your child will be allowed to sleep.

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. Needles are not involved. Your sleep study room should resemble a hotel room and you will be made to feel as comfortable as possible.

When can we go home?

A Sleep Physiologist will remove the sensors once your child wakes up in the morning.

If the study ends on a weekday, a doctor will usually be able to review the study and discuss the preliminary results with you, between 8:30 to 10:00am (depending on availability). If you wish to leave the unit to have breakfast before returning, you may.

If your child’s study ends at a weekend, the sensors will be removed at 7am and you may leave once this has been completed. The Sleep Unit closes at 8am at the weekend 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:
June 2023