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Test while you rest

15 June 2011

WHEN a doctor suspects a patient of having a sleep disorder, the next step is usually to send the patient for a sleep study.

This diagnostic test, also called a polysomnograph, monitors several physical and physiological parameters while the patient is asleep over the period of one night.

The most comprehensive test monitors the patient’s brain waves, heart rate and rhythm, eye movements, airflow, chin muscle tone, chest and abdominal movement, leg movement, body position, and oxygen saturation rate.

Previously, sleep studies could only be performed at sleep labs in medical centres, where a sleep technician would monitor them throughout the night.

However, the availability of smaller and more mobile devices have enabled patients to undergo the test in the comfort of their own homes.

Sunday Metro reporter Aida Ahmad had the experience of undergoing a home sleep study, arranged by Philips Healthcare through their Malaysian distributor, Goodlabs Medical Sdn Bhd.

She shares her experience below:

“When I knew that I was going to participate in a sleep study, I was actually excited and was looking forward to it.

Moreover, I hadn’t been sleeping well, so this opportunity to find out why I was so sleep deprived was too good to miss. At first, I was told that it would involve me being hooked up to a machine and electrodes, while the sleep technicians, as they are called, would monitor my brain waves and sleep activity in a sleep lab.

A little too close for comfort, I thought, but I was willing to be the guinea pig in the name of science.

A sleep study is a test that records a variety of body functions during sleep. Instead of performing the test in a lab, the technicians decided that it would be better to conduct it in a place which would be more comfortable for me – my home. After all, this was a sleep study, and a conducive environment was essential to achieve proper results.

During the day, I was given specific instructions by the executive from the company which distributes the device, called the Alice PDx Sleep Diagnostic System. As I was supposed to be ‘hooked up’ at 9.30pm, specific instructions were to be followed on the day of the home sleep study.

One should not nap, consume coffee, tea or carbonated drinks, chocolates or any sleep aids (ie sleeping pills, sedatives, etc), wear any body lotion, face cream, make-up, jewellery, acrylic nails or nail polish.

So there I was, fresh after a shower and in my comfortable sleep wear. There were three people who came to my home – one sleep technician and two executives from the distribution company, Goodlabs Medical Sdn Bhd; although usually, only one sleep technician does the setting-up at the client’s home. I was also told that the gadget used to gauge all the essential functions was the mere size of an MP3 player with a few wires to boot.

I was wrong.

In the black bag (similar to a laptop bag) was the main gadget, sort of like a mini computer that stores and records data in a memory card.

This was followed by the unpacking of wires and electrodes (that were to be stuck on my head), adhesive gels, sensors and bands to go on one of my index fingers, chest and nose.

After a short briefing about the procedure, I began to wonder what I got myself into.

Unfortunately, it was too late to run far, far away, so I rose to the occasion and braced myself.

The sleep technician, Mohamad Dzulkarnean Mohamad Haniffa, first told me where the seven electrodes would be attached on my head. The entire procedure is actually painless. To attach the electrodes, he had to use a cleaning paste (like a facial scrub) to clean the areas on the back of my scalp, and my forehead. Then, the electrodes were dipped in a temporary adhesive paste and placed on my head.

About thirty minutes later, with seven electrodes on my head and two small sensor pads on my chest attached to colourful wires, I felt like I was part of a human cloning experiment.

Next, came the two bands, which were attached to my chest and waist to measure my breathing effort.

Lastly, I was hooked up with a temperature sensor to monitor airflow at my nostrils and mouth.

It took about an hour to attach everything, and when I looked at myself in the mirror, I thought I could really scare the staff at the American Embassy.

So, what is one supposed to do after this?

Sleep would be an appropriate answer. But actually, you can watch television, read a book or simply lie in bed until you fall asleep.

Don’t worry if you need to get up and use the bathroom in the middle of the night. But for convenience’s sake, try not to drink too much water before the procedure.

There is a way to interact with the device should you get up in the middle of the night. There is a Pause button you can press, so it doesn’t interrupt the data input.

In terms of sleeping positions, try not to roll onto your stomach for obvious reasons.

I slept quite well, I must say, despite all the wires and the fear that one or two might get entangled or dislodged from the device.

When I woke up, it took about 10 minutes to disengage myself from the shackles of medical research – meaning the electrodes and the sensor bands.

The device with all the accessory equipment was then picked up by Goodlabs Medical business manager (Sleep and Homecare Ventilation) B. Thanapalan to be taken back to the company for analysis and the production of the final report.

Thankfully, the results, which came back a few days later, showed nothing abnormal. So perhaps, I had just been sleep deprived, because sleep was a low priority for me. I know better now!”

This article was published in on 27 March 2011.

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