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How to Prepare for and Participate in a Childhood Sleep Apnea Test

Updated on September 3, 2012

Seven Questions to Answer if Having a Sleep Study

  • Why are you having a sleep study?
  • What will the room be like?
  • What do we pack?
  • How do they attach the electrodes and other monitoring devices?
  • Can you sleep any way you want?
  • What happens the the morning after your sleep study?
  • When do we get our results?

Read below to get the answers to all seven questions!

My son has large tonsils and we have been keeping an eye on them for years. Our pediatrician uses a visual assessment to measure them. A score of one represents small tonsils while four is considered very large with the tonsils nearly touching each other. My son has been a size three to three and a half for a couple of years. Often large tonsils will diminish in size as the child grows up. This is not occurring in my son so we needed to visit an ENT or Ears, Nose, Throat doctor.

The ENT asked me five questions about my son's enlarged tonsils.

  1. How many bouts with strep throat has he had?
  2. Does he have trouble swallowing?
  3. Does he snore?
  4. Does his voice sound nasal?
  5. Does he stop breathing when he sleeps at night?

He has never had strep throat and has no issues swallowing. He does not snore, but is a bit nasal. I have no idea if he stops breathing when he sleeps at night.

We needed to assess if my son had sleep apnea and if he would be having his tonsils removed. We were given a referral for a sleep study.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is characterized by shallow breathing or brief periods of no breathing while asleep. Sleep apnea can be caused by many things including enlarged tonsils. For some with sleep apnea, a CPAP machine can be used during sleep. However, in my son’s case, having his tonsils removed would remove the obstruction and allow him to breath easily while sleeping.

Purpose of a Sleep Study?

My son heard the ENT discuss the need for a sleep study with me. Therefore, we had a long discussion on the way home. I explained to him again that while he did not have strep throat, troubling swallowing and we didn’t think that he snored, we needed to understand if his enlarged tonsils were causing him trouble breathing while he was asleep. My son's anxiety was put to rest because he understood why the study was requested and what benefits could result.

Our Sleep Study Room

Our sleep study room ready for our arrival
Our sleep study room ready for our arrival | Source

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Sleep Study Accomodations

There would be two beds, one for him and one for the attending adult. I asked him if he wanted me to go or his Dad. He picked me so that Dad could stay home with the other kids to make sure they are safe. The room had a DVD player and DirecTV. We could have brought movies with us if we wanted. Any addition nerves were eased as the room was inviting and comfortable.

Packing for a Sleep Study

We could bring snacks and drinks, but nothing with caffeine like chocolate. We brought our iPad so that we could watch a movie together, but all electronics needed to be off at 10:00 pm at the latest. If he wanted to bring a favorite blanket or pillow, that was permitted, but nothing alive like our dog.

We were going to get there about 6:30 PM the night of the study and we would leave about 6:00 AM the next morning. Lastly, we needed to make sure he was showered without any product in his hair or lotions on his body before we arrived so that the electrodes would properly affix to his scalp.

I asked him if he had any questions. He said that he understood and was excited to for the study and see what they find out.

Getting Electrodes Attached for a Sleep Study

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Getting height and weight measuredStarting with electrodes on the lower legsMaking measurements for electrode placementAn electrode glued to his scalpTherapist using a tool and blower to attach an electrode. Note the connective gel on the therapist's blue glove.My son with all electrodes in place on his faceJust a few more monitors to attachHis ET finger measuring oxygen levelsAll electrodes are in place
Getting height and weight measured
Getting height and weight measured | Source
Starting with electrodes on the lower legs
Starting with electrodes on the lower legs | Source
Making measurements for electrode placement
Making measurements for electrode placement | Source
An electrode glued to his scalp
An electrode glued to his scalp | Source
Therapist using a tool and blower to attach an electrode. Note the connective gel on the therapist's blue glove.
Therapist using a tool and blower to attach an electrode. Note the connective gel on the therapist's blue glove. | Source
My son with all electrodes in place on his face
My son with all electrodes in place on his face | Source
Just a few more monitors to attach
Just a few more monitors to attach | Source
His ET finger measuring oxygen levels
His ET finger measuring oxygen levels | Source
All electrodes are in place
All electrodes are in place | Source

Electrodes for the Sleep Study

We arrived and were checked in at our sleep study location. We had snacks, books and electronics to keep my son occupied. After showing us to our ‘hotel room’, the respiratory therapist took his height and weight and began preparing my son for the study.

She attached electrodes to his feet and chest. Two purple bands were strapped around his chest to measure chest respiration.

She then began making multiple measurements on his head with an orange marker. My son was reassured that it was not permanent and he would not end up with orange hair. These were being used to note where the electrodes would be placed on his head.

Once all the measurements and markings were complete, she began affixing electrodes on his head. She pushed his hair aside to get access to his scalp. The technician had a large blob of conductive gel on her gloves. She put a bit of the gel on an electrode and placed it on his head. She then put a gauze strip soaked in glue on top. Using a small blower and a tool, she pushed the electrodes down flush to the scalp and made sure the glue was dry. She completed this process for all the electrodes on his scalp and face. She additionally affixed a monitor under his nose to detect the breathing in and out of his nose.

Once the electrodes were in place, she placed a monitor on his finger which measures oxygen levels in his body. He looked just like ET. He is only seven and said that he didn’t know who ET was or why we were laughing.

Bio-Calibration Results

An example of the Bio-Calibration results
An example of the Bio-Calibration results | Source

Bio-Calibration Test Commands

  • Keep eyes open
  • Keep eyes closed
  • Blink quickly
  • Close eyelids and move eyeball up and down
  • Close eyelids and move eyeball back and forth
  • Pretend to chew a large wad of gum
  • Breathe only through nose
  • Breathe only through mouth
  • Hold his breath
  • Move left foot back and forth only at the ankle
  • Move right foot back and forth only at the ankle


When the monitors were in place, the respiratory therapist went into the other room. She asked him to rest comfortably on his back while she got a few things ready. She then gave him multiple commands over the room's intercom, called ‘Bio-Cal’ or Bio-Calibrations. They are used to verify how his brain waves and breathing responded to various commands.

The Bio-Cal test let the therapist know that the electrodes were properly attached, working properly and measuring the correct part of the body.

Resting at a Sleep Study

Son resting during a sleep study
Son resting during a sleep study | Source

Sleeping Ovenight for the Study

When the rest of the set up was complete, she dimmed the lights and my son was allowed to have small snacks and drink through a straw. There was a television in his room so he enjoyed a couple of shows and then chose to play on the Ipad. I was able to sit in the bed next to him and verify that he was OK and help him with anything that he needed.

At 9:00 PM, it was time to get ready for bed. They were able to unhook my son easily and I walked him to the bathroom. When we returned, they had him lay on his back again to be reattached. Then he was allowed to sleep however he wanted for the night. He was asleep within minutes.

The TV was off, but I quietly worked on my computer keeping the noise to a minimum. Eventually, I feel asleep as well.

The Morning After the Sleep Study

At 5:15 AM, the tech returned and the study was complete. She used water to loosen the glue and remove all the electrodes. She washed his hair with a wet washcloth, but reminded me to give him a good scrub when we got home as well.

We were then discharged and we gathered up our belongings and headed home. We were not anxious to leave. Back home, we were on day four of a power outage and enjoyed the overnight stay with air conditioning, cable and internet!

Sleep Study Quiz

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Sleep Study Complete

The sleep study was different than my son expected. He was glad that I took a video so that other kids could see how many electrodes were on his face and head. The monitor under his nose was a surprise, too.

He told me that he slept great and that he didn’t recall waking up or having any dreams.The electrodes were not a bother at all.

Ten business days later, we found out that my son did not have sleep apnea. He snores 25% of the time and also had a 10% nasal blockage. The ENT and I agreed that that did not warrant his tonsils being removed.

My son is glad that any child can see exactly what he experienced during his sleep study so that they won’t be nervous. He said it pulled his hair a little when they attached the electrodes, but in the morning he said, “Mommy, that wasn’t a big deal at all!


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    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Our doctor let us know that my son does not have sleep apnea. Hurray! No tonsils being removed!

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      My son was excited to know he might help other kids not be fearful. Thanks, Millionaire!

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Chrissie, he was such a trooper. He was patient and never complained at all until the video when he mentions that it hurts. I was proud of him. Thanks for reading!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      This is helpful to know about what to expect on a sleep study. I am sure it will ease many fears.

    • chrissieklinger profile image


      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Great article and video! He looked so brave with all that stuff hooked up to him!!!!!!

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks, Sharyn. I had to have the therapist take the picture of his brain activity due to multiple terminals in the room and HIPPA privacy. My son did wonderful and we will be in a few weeks what our next steps are, if any. Thanks for reading.

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Jenna, did your youngest end up having their tonsils removed as a result? Amazing how much and how quickly medicine and technology progress! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Jenna Pope profile image

      Jenna Pope 

      6 years ago from Southern California

      Blieve it or not, my youngest had a sleep study 27 years ago when apnea was considered a new field of study.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 

      6 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Gosh Karen, you packed so much great information into this article. Everything, the pictures, the video, the attention to detail is awesome. This will certainly prove to be a great reference for anyone whose child must have a sleep study.

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      We are not sure yet if my son has sleep apnea, but it can be associated with enlarged tonsils. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Natashalh profile image


      6 years ago from Hawaii

      Wow, I didn't realize that kids kids can have sleep apnea. I always associated it with overweight adults. Thanks for showing me better!

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks, Rui. I enjoyed learning more about the study while my son was going through it. My son was excited at the idea of sharing his story as well. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Rui!

    • Rui Carreira profile image

      Rui Carreira 

      6 years ago from Torres Novas

      This is definitely a quality hub. You spent lots of time in it and worked hard, but it shows! I voted up! Good job!

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks, Goodlady. My son wasn't really nervous, but I definitely think some other kids could be. He was excited to think he might help make another kid not nervous because it really wasn't a big deal. Thanks for commenting, too!

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Very helpful and will diminish all fears for Moms and children who have to go through this.


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