What are the first steps to get diagnosed for sleep apnea that I should take?

After realizing that you have the warning signs for sleep apnea, the journey begins by making an appointment with your physician who will evaluate your symptoms. Depending on your medical plan you will need to either see your primary care physician for a referral or you will be able to go directly to a specialized physician who can better diagnose and treat people who have sleep disorders. Examples of such physicians include lung and nerve specialists and ear, nose, and throat specialists.

One type of physician in particular that you may want to meet with is called the pulmonologist.  A pulmonologist is a physician who possesses specialized knowledge and skill in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions. Although sleep apnea is not a long condition it is a breathing condition and since you breathe through your lungs a pulmonologist should be able to help you with your sleep apnea.

One of the most common approaches that physicians take when diagnosing sleep apnea is based on the following:

  • Medical and family histories
  • A physical exam
  • Sleep study result

Sometimes your sleep troubles aren’t actually the result of a sleep disorder, but just bad sleep habits. So to help the physician you may want to keep a personal sleep diary for 1 to 2 weeks prior to your appointment and present it to your physician during the consultation. This is because a sleep diary can be a convenient and effective tool in helping your physician to properly diagnose and treat your sleep disorder.

sleep apnea rocket launch

sleep apnea rocket launch

In the diary it’s helpful if you can track the following information:

  • The time you go to sleep
  • The amount of time it took to fall asleep
  • Number of times you awoke during the night
  • The time you wake up
  • How long and well you slept
  • When you were awake during the night
  • If you snore, snorted or stopped breathing during the night (If you are not aware of such symptoms on your own, you can always ask a family member or bed partner to report them to you. You can also record yourself while you sleep.)
  • How alert and rested you feel in the morning
  • Do you have headaches in the morning
  • What/when you ate and drank
  • Number of caffeinated beverages consumed throughout the day
  • Number of alcoholic beverages consumed throughout the day
  • What emotion or stress you had
  • What medications you took during the day and the times
  • The exercise you had during the day and what time
  • How sleepy you feel at various times during the day
  • How often you take naps
  • Time spend exercising
  • Activities performed within an hour of bed
  • What may have disturbed your sleep (breathing troubles, leg movements, insomnia, noise, light etc…)

At your appointment, your physician can ask you questions about how you sleep and how you function during the day based on what they see in your diary and this information can help your physician assess whether you have a sleep disorder.

When I first thought that I may have a sleep disorder I made an appointment with my primary care physician and reviewed my symptoms with him and he referred me to a pulmonologist.  This was a waste of time and money because I can go directly to any type of physician on my insurance plan without a referral and didn’t need to start with my primary care physician. If you don’t need a referral on your medical insurance plan then I suggest going straight to a pulmonologist and just update your primary care physician on your status.

In the end, your physician will make an evaluation based on your signs and symptoms and may recommend that you undertake further testing, as the next step in the diagnostic process. And will likely write you a prescription for a sleep study which involves overnight monitoring of your breathing and other body functions during sleep. The first steps to get diagnosed for sleep apnea are not har, you just need to get started.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post about other warning signs of sleep apnea and I urge you to continue educating yourself about sleep apnea. Click here to read our blog post about the physical signs of sleep apnea.

You can save people’s lives and be a hero.  All you need to do is learn about sleep apnea and then educate others then you will help save lives and make the world a better place!