Sleep studies: Having a polysomnogram

What is a sleep study?

A sleep study is a test that records your child's sleeping patterns. The medical name for a sleep study is a polysomnogram (say: paul-ee-SOM-no-gram).

Each study is slightly different. Your child's study will depend on what your child needs and what the doctor asks for.

Your child will stay at the hospital overnight for the test with one parent or caregiver.

What a sleep study records

Sleep studies record the following things:

  • brain waves
  • heartbeat
  • eye movements
  • leg movements
  • breathing patterns
  • oxygen levels

A sleep technologist will perform the test

Sleep technologists are people who are trained to perform tests on the machines in the hospital.

How to help your child get ready for the sleep study

On the day of the sleep study, try to keep your child's routine as normal as possible. Changing your child's routines will not help the test. For example, if your child usually takes a nap in the day, he or she should take a nap on the day of the study.

What to bring to the sleep study

Please bring the following things to the sleep study:

  • your child's sleep diary, if you have been keeping one
  • If your child uses an apnea monitor or an oxygen monitor at home, please bring this equipment to the study
  • if your child is on a breathing machine at night, such as BIPAP or CPAP or a ventilator, please bring all equipment including the machine, tubing, and masks
  • if your child is on oxygen, please bring the therapy equipment, including masks and tubing
  • button-up or 2-piece pyjamas to let the sleep technologist easily place the sensors on your child
  • medications that your child uses or may need during the sleep study and the next morning
  • formula or infant milk and bottles to last overnight and into the morning
  • snacks, cutlery, and dishes to last overnight and into the morning
  • personal toiletries

Fresh, clean bedding will be provided, but please bring any familiar items your child uses, such as a special pillow, blanket, toy, or books. These items may provide comfort and help your child sleep.

Arriving at the sleep study lab

You will be asked to come to the sleep lab for 8 or 9 pm.

It is okay if your child arrives asleep. The sleep technologists are very skilled at placing all of the sensors on children who are asleep or awake.

When you arrive, the sleep technologists will explain what will happen and answer your questions.

Sleep studies use sensors to record the patterns

The sleep technologist will place sensors on your child. The sensors are not needles. The sensors do not hurt and they are easy to remove. Your child will have the following sensors:

  • Sensors on the head to record brain waves and eye movements.
  • Sensors on the chest and legs.
  • Sensors under the nose and mouth.
  • Belts around your child's chest and tummy. These record your child's breathing patterns. The belts do not restrict your child's breathing and are comfortable for most children.
  • A sticker attached to your child's finger or toe to monitor oxygen levels.

Your child will also be videotaped and monitored through the night on a closed circuit camera. This is to record any abnormal movements that your child may have while asleep.

Most children sleep as usual even with all the sensors

All of the sensors let your child move freely while he is asleep.

Surprisingly, most children sleep well. The sleep lab technologists try to make the sleep area and study as comfortable as possible.

Monitoring your child overnight

A sleep technologist will always be nearby. The technologist can help your child at any time.

Sometimes the sleep technologist may enter your child's room to make adjustments. He or she will try not to disturb your child's sleep.

A doctor is on call at all times in case your child needs medical help.

One parent or caregiver must stay overnight with the child during the test

This parent or caregiver will have a small bed or cot. Bed linens will be provided for you and your child.

If your child is still breastfeeding, you can breastfeed him or her as you normally do at home.

Often, a TV is in the room. You will be able to watch this before lights out and before your child goes to sleep. The room includes a private bathroom for you and your child.

The morning after the sleep study

We hope to monitor your child sleeping for 7 to 8 hours overnight.

A technologist will wake you and your child at 6 in the morning. The technologist will take the sensors off your child.

Usually, you will be able to leave the sleep lab with your child within 1 hour of the sleep study ending.

If required, you and your child may need to stay for a longer time in the morning. This is so your child can have more tests and you can meet the sleep team. A member of the team will give you instructions about these tests when the sleep study is finished and whether you need to stay. Please do not book any appointments outside the hospital the morning after the sleep study in case the sleep team needs to see your child after the sleep study.

Getting the results of the sleep study

The information from the sleep study is processed by a computer, scored by a technologist, and then reviewed by a sleep doctor. When the results are ready, they will be sent to your child's paediatrician or the doctor who referred your child for the test.

Your child may also be asked to return to the sleep clinic to meet the sleep doctor to discuss the results. You will be notified about this after the sleep study report has been completed.

Reasons to cancel the sleep study

If your child has a fever, is ill, or has a bad cold, please call the sleep lab coordinator and let her know as soon as possible.

Write down the Sleep Lab Coordinator's phone number here:

Write down the date and time of your child's appointment here:

The day before your child's sleep study, if you think your child may be too ill to go, call the sleep lab. You may be forwarded to a member of the sleep team to discuss your child's illness and decide whether or not the sleep study should be postponed.

If you cannot go to the sleep study for any other reason, please call the sleep lab at least 24 hours before your child's sleep study.

Key points

  • Your child will wear sensors to record many different body functions such as heart rate, breathing rate, brain activity and oxygen level. The sensors do not hurt.
  • Your child will need to stay at the hospital overnight. One parent must stay with the child overnight.
  • The day of a sleep study, do not change your child's normal routine.

Andrea Riekstins, RN, MN, APN
Debra Medin, MS, RRT
Rea Magi, BA
Laura Seed, MSc, RCPT(P)
Indra Narang, BMedSci, MBBCH, MRCP, FRCPCH, MD
Merianne Castellarin, Bsc, RRT


At SickKids

The Sleep Lab has a long waiting list, so please call us at least 24 hours before the sleep study if you are unable to keep this appointment. You will also receive a reminder call 24 hours before your appointment.

You have been asked to bring your child (name)___________________ to The Hospital for Sick Children to have his/her sleep assessed. This appointment is booked for (time and date)_______________________

Please call 416-813-6338 to confirm this appointment upon receiving this package. If you do not call to confirm, the sleep study will be cancelled.

The night of the study, sleep lab technicians can be reached at 416-813-4966.

When you arrive at the hospital, go directly to the sleep lab. You do not need to pre-register.

The sleep study takes place on 4C, an outpatient unit on the fourth floor in the Atrium of the hospital. The sleep technologists' work room is located in Room 4C82. When you arrive at the hospital, take the Yellow Elevators in the Atrium at the Elizabeth Street Entrance to the 4th floor. Follow the signs to 4C and to the sleep lab.

We may have to cancel your child's sleep study at the last minute due to an emergency involving another child. If this happens, the sleep study will be rescheduled as soon as possible. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause.