Sleep Lab: An Inside Look
One woman’s exhausted journey into the world of sleep science.
Cozy But Wired continued...
I change into my pajamas and sit obediently in a chair to fill out paperwork while the attendant preps the monitoring equipment. She lays out a complex network of color-coded leads, straps, and gadgets and starts attaching them to my head and body.
The first leads are taped to my shins to monitor for restless legs syndrome. Next, a pair of monitors is taped to my chest and ribs. Then a microphone is taped to my throat, electrodes are stuck to my temples and jaw, and a nasal cannula with two tiny hair-like wires is attached to my nose in order to measure the force and pace of my breathing. Finally, it’s time to adhere the multitude of brain monitors to my scalp.
Prior to this experience, I’d worried that the brain electrodes would be attached with tape, a scary thought for anyone with hair. Instead the leads are mashed into great goopy dollops of gelatinous adhesive jelly and squished onto my head. The goo is the least pleasant part of the experience, having a consistency somewhere between petroleum jelly and all-weather silicone caulk. The technician bluntly tells me to block out my morning for the laborious task of shampooing it all out.
And now it is finally time to get into bed. The technician plugs the wires into a shoebox-sized device and tells me it will be my bedside companion for the night. If I roll over, the box rolls with me. If I get up to use the restroom, the box comes with me. I settle down, say goodnight to the box, and try to sleep.
Sleep at Last
What follows is 7 hours of restless, delirious sleep. My confused, exhausted mind conjures up dreams that I’m actually lying awake the whole time. I am vaguely aware of opening my eyes and apologizing to the technician, and each time she assures me that I have, in fact, been asleep.
At one point I roll over and detach several leads, and three times during the night I kick my way out of the leg monitors. Around 5:30 a.m. I finally fall into a deep, restful sleep where the jumbled worries about lab results can no longer plague me; 15 minutes later, the technician wakes me up and tells me we’re done.
I spend the better part of the next day trying to scrub adhesive jelly out of my hair. The unctuous goop is impervious to soap and every time I think I’m clean I find another deposit behind my ear. It takes all of the hot water, most of my shampoo, and a few healthy rounds of vehement unladylike cursing to wash it all away.