:: in which we explore the practice of letting strangers watch you sleep ::
You know what’s nice? Breathing. Especially while you’re asleep. I recently learned that I stop breathing every third minute while I sleep, and I wake up 31 times per hour, all night long. This is pretty disturbing news that had me freaked out about falling asleep, enough to make me try staying up all night. I thought that was a pretty good plan, because you know how many times I stop breathing while I’m awake? NONE TIMES. Alas, I’m way past 20-something and my ability to pull an all-nighter has vastly diminished. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long to receive my very own APAP or as I call it, the NightyNight machine.
Anyway, the important thing here is not the machine. It’s the test I endured to receive the machine: the sleep study. Since sleep apnea is fairly common, I know many of you have also experienced the joy of trying to fall asleep with 26 wires attached to your head, and an eye-in-the-sky camera mounted on the ceiling over your bed in a fake hotel room. Every once in a while, a voice comes in over the intercom to give you some instruction or other, just to complete the comfy at-home atmosphere. Makes you want to fall right asleep, doesn’t it? The woman who checked me in to the sleep center actually greeted me by saying, “Hi, I’m so-and-so and I’ll be watching you sleep tonight.” Excellent! I always thought more people should see the beauty that is me sleeping.
So you’re completely wired up, with electrodes attached to your scalp, chest, and legs. By the way, the ones on your head are secured by an extremely sticky goop that I’m certain was developed by NASA and is near impossible to remove from thick hair. They hook you up right when you arrive at the sleep center, even though you’re not expected to go to bed for another hour or two. So I tried my best to read in bed for a while, but the wires kept tangling up and pretty soon I gave up. I just wanted to get this night over with. I was told I would be able to move around the room freely, but when I asked if I could go to the bathroom in the middle of the night if I had to, the technician informed me that I would have to ask permission first so she could come into the room and unhook all my wires first. I decided to hold it.
The most confusing thing about a sleep study is this: how do they expect you to sleep when you are in this contrived, uncomfortable, non-private situation? Of course it took me forever to fall asleep, and of course I woke up a bazillion times during the night. Besides the usual choking and gasping for air, I kept waking up to untangle myself from all the wires that had crept over my face like multi-colored vines as I was doing my usual tossing and turning routine. But somehow, they extract useful medical data from this scenario, so hats off to them. I don’t get it.
The next day, I went back to the sleep doctor to receive the study results. We already know it was bad news, so I’ll just tell you about this paper they gave me as I walked out of the appointment. Besides stating that I have Obstructive Sleep Apnea and plotting the number of times my brain is deprived of oxygen in a variety of morbid graphs and charts, it also listed several items the sleep technician was supposed to discuss with me. Here’s the list:
1. Encourage weight loss.
Okay first of all, I know I need to lose weight. Every discussion with a medical professional on the subject goes like this:
DR: You should lose some weight.
ME: I know, I’m trying.
DR: Yeah, it’s hard.
Not helpful. So could we just skip this one, because I don’t feel like discussing it.
2. Advise patient not to drive while sleepy.
As part of the sleep study, they asked me a series of questions to assess my level of daytime sleepiness. Questions like, “If I left the exam room right now, could you fall asleep in here? If you were riding as a passenger in a car, could you fall asleep? If you were sitting on a sofa watching TV, could you fall asleep?” And I was almost desperate by the end of the questioning, pleading “PLEASE CAN WE ARRANGE ONE OF THOSE THINGS because yes, I can fall asleep! I’m falling asleep right now!”
But I was very careful to say no to the trick question “If you were driving a car, could you fall asleep?” No, I could not, would not fall asleep while driving a car. I didn’t even stop to think about whether I could, in fact, fall asleep while driving. I just knew that was a trick question and I gave the right answer without hesitation so I wouldn’t raise some red flags on the technician’s answer sheet and get called in to the DMV to have my license cut in half. No, I could NOT fall asleep while driving. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
3. Educate patient on sleep hygiene.
What the heck is sleep hygiene? I took a shower before I came to the sleep center. I was wearing clean jammies. I brushed and flossed before bed, too. I’m racking my brain here. Was it because I farted that time? I couldn’t help it; I was almost asleep at that point. I mean seriously, would I fart on purpose when I KNEW someone was watching my every move on camera, and could also hear me? Please. I’m not a boy.
PS: the author would like it to be noted that she never actually farted. She was using poetic license to say something funny and make you laugh. She never, ever farted, not during the sleep study and not at any other time, ever.