Not-Quite-Sleep Study

Just as a follow on to yesterday’s post (see Heal Thyself), I thought I’d give an idea to anyone who’s never been through a sleep study what it’s like.  (I’ll have a real post later today, related actually to life with the Monster.)

I will admit, to start, that I didn’t look forward to doing this at all.  I realize, of course, that finding out whether or not I have sleep apnea is very important (and potentially life-saving), but… it’s a matter of both not enjoying the idea of having someone watching me sleep and not wanting to be uncomfortable both during the study and with the resulting treatment if it turns out to be the case.

But, on the other hand, I only had the vaguest idea of what a sleep study was going to be like.  I had noticed the study bedrooms when I’d stopped in to the sleep center for my appointment with the doctor on Friday, but that’s really just a quick glance and theoretical knowledge as opposed to operational knowledge of the process.

So I arrived at the sleep center at 8:45 last night, with a whole bundle of stuff – my laptop (in case I had time to work on some homework I have for a correspondence language course), a few books (since reading is better than watching TV for getting yourself into sleep mode, according to studies), my pillow from my bed and my pajamas.  I was about 45 seconds behind the other person who was being studied that evening, which meant that once I checked in and was shown to one of those bedrooms, I had a thirty to forty-five minute wait before the tech came in to wire me up.

The room would have passed for a very cheap hotel room, or perhaps a bare-bones dorm room – it had a queen sized bed, a night stand with a CPAP machine, speakers and an alarm clock on it, a leather chair and a flat-screen television high up on the wall.  The camera was visible mounted just above the television, pointed at the bed.  I changed into my pajamas, got out one of my books, and settled in to wait while “Chopped” was playing on the television.  (I just wanted some background noise so I could try to ignore the fact that I was in a bedroom in an office building waiting to get wired up.)

Forty five or so minutes later, the tech came in with a folding chair and directed me to sit down in it.  He then proceeded – in very broken English – to explain to me quickly what he was going to do, and began to put sticky goop in my hair in several spots and attach electrodes to my scalp, followed by the same on a few spots on my face to monitor eye movement, jaw movement (I grind my teeth sometimes in my sleep), and to attach a mic to pick up any snoring.  Two sets of probes up my nose, to pick up temperature readings and breathing.  More were attached lower down to monitor my heart rate and to pick up any leg motion, and two straps were put around my torso to pick up my breathing volume… and then the tech helped me into bed to lie down on my back – not my normal sleeping position – after I’d managed to tangle my legs up in the four wires running down there.

That’s when it took a turn for the strange.  If you’ve ever played Portal 2, think of the first scene (“The Courtesy Call”).  The lights were out, and I’m lying there – sans glasses – staring up at the fuzzy image of the darkened television when the tech started to give me basic self-check instructions.  Close your eyes.  Open your eyes.  Look left and right five times.  Look up and down five times.  Breathe only through your nose.  This proceeded in a similar fashion for about five minutes before he told me to get some sleep, and the speakers clicked off.

Yeah.  Sleep.

I don’t know how long I actually did sleep – I was fairly tired when I got to the sleep center, if only because I’ve been off caffeine since Sunday morning and I’d woken up at 5:30 that morning.  I do know that I woke up while it was still dark out (which could either be apnea or just waking up)… and lay there.  I don’t know what time it was since I couldn’t pull the clock to somewhere that I could see the display, but I can guess that if it was apnea that woke me up, it was after 2 AM (the cut-off where the tech would have come in to put me into a CPAP mask).  So I lay there, alternately with my eyes open and closed, trying to get myself back into a mode to go to sleep.  Being wired up, it was very uncomfortable to lie there, and all but impossible to roll onto my side into a comfortable, normal sleeping position.  I also know that at some point while I had been asleep, the tech had come in and moved the pulse-ox thing on my right hand from my pinky to my index finger – either that or I’m more talented than I know and moved it in my sleep – so… who knows.

Personally, I don’t know how you’re supposed to sleep with all the stuff wired to you.  Moreover, in this day and age where everything’s going increasingly wireless, I don’t know why there had to be so many wires everywhere – why don’t they have everything on bluetooth or the like, so that, say, I could go to the bathroom if I needed to, or get out of bed if I can’t sleep.  (I have a twenty-minute rule with insomnia – if I can’t fall back asleep within 20 minutes of waking, I get out of bed for a bit so my body doesn’t “learn” that it’s okay to be awake in bed.)  I can only guess that either a) I napped intermittently while I was “awake” or b) I just don’t have a good grasp on time passing when there’s no indication of what time it is.

Eventually, the sun rose and I could hear the tech doing the wake-up courtesy call thing with the other person through the door, followed a short while later by a repetition of the courtesy call stuff with me again… and then he finally came in to unhook me from all the equipment.  It was tempting to ask what time I’d woken up.. but given that he’d had enough trouble understanding me the night before when I’d been trying to ask questions, I just let my question remain unasked.  Once I was unhooked, I was directed to the bathroom to wash the goop off my face (with a direction to use very hot water to dissolve it), and then got dressed and got in my car.

So, it’s a little after six AM and I’m awake and in the middle of Towson.  Thankfully, the sleep center was around the corner from a drive-through Starbucks, and after nearly three days without caffeine, I was jonesing for a fix.  At that hour, the wait was minimal, and after placing my order, I pulled up behind the one car at the window… and then rolled forward when it was my turn.

I can only imagine, really, what the woman at the window thought was going on.  Here before her was some guy with very messed up hair, with some white goop visible here and there in it, looking obviously tired and somewhat deranged, having ordered a quad venti, non-fat, no-whip Mocha.  I should have had one of those paper hospital gowns, just to complete the “I just escaped from the looney bin” look.  She handed over my drink, and whisked me on my way as quickly as she possibly could…

I really hope that they found what they were looking for with this study.  I don’t want to repeat this process anytime soon.

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