Multiple Sleep Latency Tests vs. Polysomnography: Which One is Right for You?

Multiple Sleep Latency Tests vs. Polysomnography: Which One is Right for You?

Sleep study tests can occur in a variety of ways, confined to a sleep lab or clinic or even to your home, in which case it would be an ambulatory sleep study. With so many approaches to sleep tests, it can be challenging to determine which route to take, more so if you don’t know the first thing about sleep tests. But not to worry. We shall cover the different types of sleep tests today, mostly focusing on the conventional polysomnography (commonly known as a PSG) and multiple sleep latency tests (MSLTs). By the end of this article, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about the sleep study interpretation service to go with. 

What are multiple sleep latency tests (MSLTs)? 

Sleep latency simply refers to the time it takes you to fall asleep after going to bed and getting ready for sleep. Also referred to in some circles as sleep onset latency, the mean duration for this period stands at about 15 minutes. Of course, sleep latency can also vary from one individual to the next depending on: 

  • Food or drink consumption leading to bedtime
  • Level of fatigue
  • Stress
  • Medication, etc

Consequently, MSLTs are a series of sleep latency tests that sleep scoring services carry out to determine how long it takes you to fall into slumber and eventually REM sleep. They are carried out periodically during your wakeful time (which is typically during the day for most individuals), at intervals of about 2 hours or so. 

When are MSLTs right for you? 

Depending on the suspected condition, the diagnostic approach will be different. This is the norm in the medical world and it is also the case when it comes to sleep study reporting services. The exact test that’s right for you will depend on what aspect of sleep you’re struggling with. 

For example, if you experience excessive daytime sleepiness, which affects 20% of Americans mind you, then your physician may point you in the direction of multiple sleep latency tests to get to the bottom of the matter. 

MSLTs are suitable when there is suspicion of narcolepsy, a condition of daytime drowsiness, or for individuals with idiopathic insomnia. 

You’ll know MSLTs are the right choice for you if you exhibit the following symptoms: 

  • Falling asleep during the day without warning

Excessive daytime sleepiness is a clear indication you need an MSTL done. If you tend to fall asleep in the weirdest of times such as in the middle of conversations or work, then you may be narcoleptic. The sleep spells can be brief, lasting just a couple of minutes, but the sleepiness keeps coming back even after taking naps. 

  • Very short concentration spans at work or school 

Narcolepsy may also come with a loss of focus during the day. If your alertness levels are really low and it’s hard to even pay attention to the simplest of tasks, an MSLT may be necessary. 

  • Hallucinations

Daytime drowsiness may also be accompanied by sleep paralysis as well as hallucinations. Patients start seeing things that aren’t there, and these images can feel so vivid that they seem to be real and frightening.

  • Unexplained muscle tone loss           

Also known as cataplexy, this occurs when you suddenly feel weakness in some muscles. You may experience slurred speech because of it, and the condition can also be exacerbated by intense positive emotions. 

In a nutshell, sleep study scoring outsourcing services may recommend that an MSLT is most suitable if you are struggling with some type of daytime sleeping disorder or hypersomnia. 

What about polysomnography? 

A PSG, on the other hand, is essential to diagnosing a huge variety of sleep disorders. Sleep technicians can perform the sleep study at either time of day, be it day or night, which makes it a more expansive and lengthier test. However, sleep techs traditionally carry out the vast majority of PSGs at night, which marks normal sleep hours for most people. 

Unlike an MSLT that occurs during brief periods of sleep, a PSG mostly happens during periods when you’re fully asleep, with physicians usually charting the following data: 

  • Eye movement
  • Breathing rate
  • Heart rate
  • Oxygen levels
  • Brain waves etc 

When is a PSG right for you? 

As we mentioned before, multiple sleep latency tests are suitable if you have a problem, particularly with daytime sleepiness and sleep latency. If the symptoms of your sleep disorder extend beyond that, a PSG may be better placed at uncovering your disorder. 

If you have or suspect that you have sleep apnea, and sleep physician interpretation reporting service worth its salt will strongly advise polysomnography. Sleep apnea can be life-threatening because it is a condition where respiration starts and stops as you sleep. 

Some of the symptoms of sleep apnea to be on the watch out for include: 

  • Loud snoring 
  • Observed pauses in breathing by a 3rd party
  • Waking up feeling breathless 
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth upon awakening
  • Inability to stay asleep for long periods, etc

While a PSG is most commonly leveraged to diagnose sleep apnea, sleep-scoring services already rely on polysomnography to also pinpoint many other types of disorders. Some of them include: 

  • Restless leg syndrome 
  • Insomnia
  • REM sleep behavior disorder etc 
  • Parasomnias and many more 

Polysomnography can be done at home or onsite, depending on whether your physician suspects the possibility of environmental triggers for your sleep disorder. It may also occur as a full-night or split-night PSG.

MSTs or PSGs? The final verdict 

The bottom line is that multiple sleep latency tests are specially designed to help uncover and remedy excessive daytime sleepiness. A polysomnography covers a much larger base in terms of picking out a myriad of sleep disorders, from insomnia and RLS to parasomnia and everything else in between. PSGs are ideal for cases of severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and are the way to go more so if your symptoms occur when you’re unconscious. Either way, both tests are key to diagnosing sleep problems and improving sleep quality. Ideally, your physician should advise on which particular sleep test meets your needs. 

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