Polysomnography (PSG), a type of sleep study, is a multi-parametric test used in the study of sleep and as a diagnostic tool in sleep medicine. The test result is called apolysomnogram, also abbreviated PSG. The name is derived from Greek and Latin roots: the Greek πολύς (polus for "many, much", indicating many channels), the Latin somnus ("sleep"), and the Greek γράφειν (graphein, "to write").
Polysomnography is a comprehensive recording of the biophysiological changes that occur during sleep. It is usually performed at night, when most people sleep, though some labs can accommodate shift workers and people with circadian rhythm sleep disorders and do the test at other times of day. The PSG monitors many body functions including brain (EEG), eye movements (EOG), muscle activity or skeletal muscle activation (EMG) and heart rhythm (ECG) during sleep. After the identification of the sleep disorder sleep apnea in the 1970s, the breathing functions respiratory airflow and respiratory effort indicators were added along with peripheral pulse oximetry.
A polysomnogram will typically record a minimum of 12 channels requiring a minimum of 22 wire attachments to the patient. These channels vary in every lab and may be adapted to meet the doctor's requests. There is a minimum of three channels for the EEG, one or two measure airflow, one or two are for chin muscle tone, one or more for leg movements, two for eye movements (EOG), one or two for heart rate and rhythm, one for oxygen saturation and one each for the belts which measure chest wall movement and upper abdominal wall movement. The movement of the belts is typically measured with piezoelectric sensors or respiratory inductance plethysmography. This movement is equated to effort and produces a low-frequency sinusoidal waveform as the patient inhales and exhales. Because movement is equated to effort, this system of measurement can produce false positives. It is possible, especially during obstructive apneas, for effort to be made without measurable movement.
Wires for each channel of recorded data lead from the patient and converge into a central box, which in turn is connected to a computer system for recording, storing and displaying the data. During sleep the computer monitor can display multiple channels continuously. In addition, most labs have a small video camera in the room so the technician can observe the patient visually from an adjacent room.
The electroencephalogram (EEG) will generally use six "exploring" electrodes and two "reference" electrodes, unless a seizure disorder is suspected, in which case more electrodes will be applied to document the appearance of seizure activity. The exploring electrodes are usually attached to the scalp near the frontal, central (top) and occipital (back) portions of the brain via a paste that will conduct electrical signals originating from the neurons of the cortex. These electrodes will provide a readout of the brain activity that can be "scored" into different stages of sleep (N1, N2, N3 which combined are referred to as NREM sleep, and Stage R which is rapid eye movement sleep or REM, and Wakefulness). The EEG electrodes are placed according to the International 10-20 system.
The electrooculogram (EOG) uses two electrodes; one that is placed 1 cm above the outer canthus of the right eye and one that is placed 1 cm below the outer canthus of the left eye. These electrodes pick up the activity of the eyes in virtue of the electropotential difference between the cornea and the retina (the cornea is positively charged relative to the retina). This helps to determine when REM sleep occurs, of which rapid eye movements are characteristic, and also essentially aids in determining when sleep occurs.
The electromyogram (EMG) typically uses four electrodes to measure muscle tension in the body as well as to monitor for an excessive amount of leg movements during sleep (which may be indicative of periodic limb movement disorder, PLMD). Two leads are placed on the chin with one above the jaw line and one below. This, like the EOG, helps determine when sleep occurs as well as REM sleep. Sleep generally includes relaxation and so a marked decrease in muscle tension occurs. A further decrease in skeletal muscle tension occurs in REM sleep. A person becomes partially paralyzed to make acting out of dreams impossible, although people that do not have this paralysis can suffer from REM behavior disorder. Finally, two more leads are placed on the anterior tibialis of each leg to measure leg movements.
Though a typical electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) would use ten electrodes, only two or three are used for a polysomnogram. They can either be placed under the collar bone on each side of the chest, or one under the collar bone and the other six inches above the waist on either side of the body. These electrodes measure the electrical activity of the heart as it contracts and expands, recording such features as the "P" wave, "QRS" complex, and "T" wave. These can be analyzed for any abnormalities that might be indicative of an underlying heart pathology.
Nasal and oral airflow can be measured using pressure transducers, and/or a thermocouple, fitted in or near the nostrils; the pressure transducer is considered the more sensitive.[ This allows the clinician/researcher to measure the rate of respiration and identify interruptions in breathing. Respiratory effort is also measured in concert with nasal/oral airflow by the use of belts. These belts expand and contract upon breathing effort. However, this method of respiration may also produce false positives. Some patients will open and close their mouth while obstructive apneas occur. This forces air in and out of the mouth while no air enters the airway and lungs. Thus, the pressure transducer and thermocouple will detect this diminished airflow and the respiratory event may be falsely identified as a hypopnea, or a period of reduced airflow, instead of an obstructive apnea.
Pulse oximetry determines changes in blood oxygen levels that often occur with sleep apnea and other respiratory problems. The pulse oximeter fits over a finger tip or an ear lobe.
Snoring may be recorded with a sound probe over the neck, though more commonly the sleep technician will just note snoring as "mild", "moderate" or "loud" or give a numerical estimate on a scale of 1 to 10. Also, snoring indicates airflow and can be used during hypopneas to determine whether the hypopnea may be an obstructive apnea.