In-Lab vs At-Home — A Comparison of Sleep Tests

- By Lofta
In-Lab vs At-Home — A Comparison of Sleep Tests
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By Lofta
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We’ll compare the differences between a home sleep study and an in-lab sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea

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An overnight sleep study measures the quality of your sleep to pinpoint whether you have a sleep-related disorder. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, you’ll need to take an at-home or in-lab sleep test to confirm a diagnosis and receive a treatment plan. But which test is better for your budget and health needs? Here we’ll compare the differences between a home sleep study and an in-lab sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea.

In-Lab Sleep Study

What to Expect During An in-Lab Sleep Study

The in-lab sleep study monitors your sleep stages and cycles during an overnight stay at a hospital or sleep diagnostic center. During the night, a sleep lab technician evaluates data that is collected by sensors attached to your head and body. A sleep study doctor will then review your final results, and a final report will be sent to your referring doctor to make a diagnosis and provide a treatment recommendation. 

Sleep Metrics Collected

An in-lab sleep study records extensive metrics to capture sleep patterns: brain activity, blood oxygen levels, sleep stages, heart rate, breathing, airflow, body position, snoring or other sleep sounds, and movement in the chest, abdomen, eyes, and limbs. 

Sleep Diso​​rders Detected

In addition to Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), in-lab tests can detect sleep disorders such as Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), insomnia, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, periodic limb movement disorder, sleep walking, sleep talking, and REM sleep behavior disorder. 

In-lab studies collect more precise and comprehensive metrics than home sleep tests. Therefore, they are recommended for people who may have multiple sleep disorders, sleep disorders other than OSA, or a history of cardiorespiratory diseases, stroke, insomnia, or hypoventilation. 

Sleep Test Duration

In-lab tests collect data during one night of sleep, though it typically takes two weeks to confirm sleep results and a diagnosis from your doctor. If results are inconclusive, you may need to take a follow-up lab test.

Cost of In-Lab Sleep Study

Since the in-lab sleep study cost varies by clinical facility and test type, it can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. According to WebMD, the average total cost (not including insurance contributions) is $5,384. 

Insurance Coverage

Many insurance providers cover at least part of the cost of a sleep study in-lab. For example, if you show clinical signs and symptoms of OSA, Medicare covers 20% of the cost after you meet the Part B deductible, while private insurers may reimburse you up to $1,200. Before you sign up for an in-lab sleep study, consult your insurance provider for specific coverage details.

Advantages of in-Lab Sleep Studies

  • Precision: In-lab sleep studies collect more extensive sleep and body metrics than home sleep tests, so they can diagnose a broader range and severity of sleep disorders.
  • Support: Sleep clinics are staffed with a sleep technician and other healthcare providers who are trained in sleep medicine, so you’ll receive in-person support during your stay.
  • Suitability: Because in-lab studies collect more detailed data and are monitored onsite, they are best suited for people with pre-exisiting conditions such as cardiorespiratory diseases, stroke, insomnia, or hypoventilation. 

Disadvantages of in-Lab Sleep Studies
    • Comfort: Sleeping away from home can induce anxiety and poor-quality sleep, particularly in a clinical setting that involves electrodes and machinery. 
    • Time: In-lab tests may have long wait times; they also require more extensive preparation for an overnight stay.
    • Cost: Sleep clinics are more expensive than home tests, and they may not be covered (partially or fully) by insurance providers.
  • Results: You may not get your sleep results and diagnosis until weeks after your test. 

  • At-Home Sleep Study

    What To Expect During An at-Home Sleep Study

    A home sleep study uses a portable device to collect one night of data while you sleep at home. Data collected by the sensors are sent directly to a sleep physician, who will issue a sleep report and, if diagnosed, a prescription and therapy recommendation. 

    While home sleep study equipment varies by provider, it may include a nasal breathing sensor, chest or abdomen belt, fingertip pulse oximeter, microphone, and data collection device. A Lofta home sleep test simplifies the process with the Itamar WatchPAT ONE, a portable device that is worn on the wrist and connects to a fingertip and chest sensor (no nasal tube or body strap required).

    Sleep Metrics Collected

    A sleep apnea test at home typically measures airflow, blood oxygen levels, and breathing patterns. It does not detect sleep time or sleep stages, as does the more detailed test at a sleep clinic.

    Sleep Test Duration

    Home tests collect data within one night of sleep. You’ll receive a sleep report within __ days, plus a follow-up diagnosis and treatment plan from a doctor within __ days.  If results are inconclusive, your doctor may recommend a follow-up test at a sleep lab.

    Sleep Disorders Detected

    An at-home sleep study is intended to test for moderate to severe cases of OSA, and it is significantly more accurate among people at high risk for OSA. Because home sleep tests measure less extensive metrics than in-lab tests, they do not provide sufficient information to diagnose non-respiratory sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, insomnia, or restless leg syndrome. 

    Cost of Sleep Study at Home

    Depending on the provider, a home sleep study costs $169 to $400. (Lofta’s at-home test costs …)

    Insurance Coverage

    Home sleep tests are often covered by insurance companies. If you’re referred for a sleep study to diagnose OSA, contact your insurance provider to confirm coverage. 

    Advantages of Home Sleep Testing
    • Convenience: You sleep comfortably from your own home, rather than at a sleep clinic.
    • Cost: Home sleep tests are cheaper than in-lab tests, and insurance companies are more likely to cover their costs.
    • Results: You can order a home test instead of waiting for an appointment at a sleep center — and you could be diagnosed with OSA within 7 days.
    • Ease: With Lofta’s home sleep test, you’ll receive at-home sleep study instructions, a personalized sleep report, and a pre-test and follow-up consultation with a sleep doctor.
    Disadvantages of Home Sleep Testing 
    • Precision: Home tests record less detailed data than in-lab tests, so they are best suited for people at high risk for moderate or severe sleep apnea. 
    • Suitability: Home sleep studies only test for OSA, while in-lab studies test for OSA and other sleep disorders. Home tests are therefore not recommended for people with multiple sleep disorders or a history of cardiorespiratory diseases, stroke, insomnia, or hypoventilation.