“A sleep study is basically a diagnostic test where patients will come into the sleep lab and get wired up from head to toe,” says Scott Leibowitz, M.D., medical director of the Piedmont Sleep Center. “We monitor everything from brain activity to breathing and breathing effort to EKG and muscle activity. Essentially what we’re looking at is the physiology of someone’s sleep [throughout] the night.”
Sleep studies take place at the Piedmont Sleep Center and require the patient to stay overnight in one of the center’s hotel-like rooms.
Dr. Leibowitz says the Center performs patient sleep studies overnight because sleep cycles are different in the afternoon. Registered polysomnographic technologists run the tests during the night, with Dr. Leibowitz on call if needed.
While a camera records the patient while he or she sleeps, the most important aspect of the sleep study are the biologic signals measured from brain activity and breathing patterns.
“We’re characterizing not only an individual’s sleep, but their sleep quality and sleep architecture, which is the distribution of the staging of sleep,” says Dr. Leibowitz. “We’re looking for abnormalities as well as things that might cause sleep disruption, fragmentation and other sleep-related complaints.”
There are numerous possible causes of sleep-related problems, including:
- Adolescent sleep disorders
- Circadian rhythm disorders
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Pediatric sleep disorders
- Periodic limb movement disorder
- Restless legs syndrome
“Understanding the nuances and nature of the complaint, and trying to identify the source of that complaint ultimately is going to help direct the treatment,” he says.
Treating the underlying condition, not just the symptom, is Dr. Leibowitz’s main focus.
“Giving someone a sleeping pill is often the wrong choice because you’re often dealing with the symptom, like trouble sleeping, not the problem, like sleep apnea. Until you deal with that breathing problem, a sleeping pill is going to be essentially ineffective or even potentially harmful.”
Sleep studies are often life-changing for patients, he says.
“The way that we impact people’s lives is first, understanding the nature of their complaints and doing testing when appropriate. The sleep study is the equivalent of the EKG or an ultrasound of the heart, an echocardiogram. It is a test to help understand the potential etiology of the symptoms.”
Not every person who visits his office needs a sleep study, he adds.
“A sleep study is appropriate if there is a constellation of symptoms that suggest that a sleep study is going to help us understand and identify those symptoms,” says Dr. Leibowitz. “[Sleep studies help us direct] the treatment that is going to be the most effective, safe and sustaining in terms of the benefits it provides.”
Piedmont offers sleep medicine services at its Atlanta, Fayette, Henry, Mountainside and Newnan campuses.