Sleep Study

Last weekend, I had a sleep study. This was to find out why I seem to need to sleep for ten hours every night, and still can’t stay awake during the day. I’d never had a sleep study before. This place was called a Sleep Arts and Sciences center, which made me immediately suspicious.  

My appointment was at 9:30pm on Saturday night. The sleep center was in a sort of one-level office complex that was at that hour pretty much deserted. I parked where I was told to and rang the bell, and a young guy holding a clipboard let me in.

In the center, there was a lobby, and a central office with overhead monitors that displayed a camera feed of four bedrooms, and four bedrooms, and a bathroom. The guy showed me into my room and told me that my tech would be with me in a bit. I took a picture of the room with my phone:


You can’t see it from the photo, but there’s a camera in the wall directly across from the bed. I waited for a long time, and then this very young girl came in and introduced herself. We chatted for awhile about my inability to stay awake. And then she told me to go change into my PJs in the bathroom and meet her at the yellow chair.

At the yellow chair, my tech began to wire me up. First, she glued some sensors to my calves, my chest, and my stomach. And then the hard part began: she had to stick little bits of putty all over my face and my scalp and then press these tiny little sensors in. This took a really long time, and while it was going on, we learned all about each other’s lives.

I learned that she lived with her boyfriend and two other guy roommates, and that they all had a really unfortunate history with pets. So far, they’d killed two turtles, a bunch of fish, and a bird.

I asked her about what it was like working at the sleep center. She works two night shifts and two day shifts every week. I said it was really ironic that she worked in a sleep center and probably had really messed up sleep, and she said that everybody says that. She said that all the employees have to have a sleep study when they first start working there to see what the patients go through and that she really hated it.

I asked her if she and the guy really had to sit there and watch people sleep all night, or if they could just mess around on the internet, and she said it depended on the night. Like, the previous night, they’d had a guy with severe sleep apnea and his oxygen kept plummeting and it was really frightening and stressful and they really had to watch him. But she said a lot of nights, they have a movie or something on in the background to listen to while they watch the cameras.

While she was wiring me up, the other two ladies who were having sleep studies that night (both of them older) kept calling for assistance and the guy was jumping in and out of the office continually. One wanted him to turn her light off. The other, I think, just wanted to chat for a bit.

Finally, I was all wired up. The various colored wires were all plugged into this big black plastic box, which she hung around my neck. I had a really interesting trip to the bathroom, and then I met her in the bedroom, where she hooked all the stuff up to the equipment next to the bed. Then, she put a clip on one of my fingers that glowed red. (“I look like ET!” I said. “Everybody says that,” she said, looking tired.) And finally, she put a cannula-type thingy in my nose. I didn’t have the presence of mind to snap a selfie, but I looked something like this:


Then, she explained that if I needed assistance at any point during the night, I could wave at the camera, or just say something, since the room was recorded.

“I’ll try not to fart audibly then,” I said.

“Oh, everybody does,” she replied.

Then she turned out the lights and shut the door. And then she came on over the loudspeaker and asked me to kick my legs in turn, roll my eyes in certain directions, take deep breaths, etc. And then she said I was free to go to sleep.

So, I often have a hard time falling asleep, but I have a foolproof system to force myself to do it: I meditate. I just don’t allow myself to think of anything at all, and every time a thought comes into my head, I let it go, and eventually, I bore my brain to sleep. Of course, when I first feel myself falling asleep, I get really excited, and that wakes me back up again, so it can take awhile, but I usually can fall asleep in 15 or 20 minutes.

But a few things were working against me in the sleep study. For one thing, I was covered in wires and being watched by two teenagers on a camera feed. For another, I typically sleep on my face with my arms and legs starfished out to the side, and I couldn’t do that with all the equipment. And finally, I’d been so excited about the sleep study that I’d completely forgotten about eating dinner, and as soon as she shut the lights off, I realized I was starving to death. I have a really, really hard time sleeping when I’m hungry.

So basically, I was awake all night, meditating furiously and trying not to think about cheeseburgers.

At 6am, the girl woke me up and we went back to the yellow chair and began the long process of alcoholing all the gunk out of my hair. This took a long time, since I have a lot of hair and there was the equivalent of an entire pack of gum smushed in there. Meanwhile, she explained that since I had essentially not slept, it was difficult to say what my problem might be, but perhaps the doctor would have more insight after reviewing my records.

Then, she took me over to her computer and showed me all the various feeds from all the sensors and explained what all of them meant, which of course I was completely unable to follow having just spent all night squinting at a camera through the dark. She said I’d had a couple of breathing abnormalities, but nothing like what they usually see.

And then I went home. Later that week, I got a phone call with my results.

What I was hoping to hear was, “Great news! We have identified your problem, and there’s an affordable pill with no side-effects that will make it so that you can sleep eight hours a night without feeling like you’re going to throw up all the next day!”

But what they actually said was, “You have some moderate upper respiratory disturbance, and we recommend PAP therapy. How’d you like to sleep with a giant mask on your face and never have sex again?”

So I think it’s back to the drawing board.


  1. Velda says:

    d’oh. I worry that they’ll tell me the same thing, so I haven’t gone.


  2. Lucy says:

    Not all respiratory issues are solved with the CPAP.. If you haven’t already been checked out for GERD, acid reflux, then give that a try..Have you been to an ENT? You might have a deviated septum which is usually fixable. Or, you just might have a small airway of small throat.
    If you sleep with only one pillow, on your back, try 2 or 3 in case it’s reflux. These days you have to be proactive with your health. You can find everything I suggested online. Hope this helps. Been there done that.


    1. Elizabeth says:

      Thanks for the suggestions! I don’t have any problems with acid reflux, but I do think it’s something else, not breathing problems. I’m going to look into it more, for sure. 🙂


  3. Lori says:

    Oh, man! I, too, am tired every morning, even after 9+ hours of sleep. I had thought about doing a sleep study, but not sure I want to go through it after reading this!


    1. Elizabeth says:

      At least I’m not alone! You and Velda should both get one anyway. For one thing, it’s really pretty funny. And you might find out what’s wrong — if the cure is worse than the problem, you don’t have to take it. 😉


  4. T E Stazyk says:

    I could have told you how this would end. My brother and two of my friends have had these studies and all were told the CPAP would solve their problems by the doctor (aka the CPAP salesman). Apparently technology has made them a little less invasive but my brother claimed that initially it was like trying to sleep with your head hanging out of a car window going 70mph down the freeway.


    1. Elizabeth says:

      Yeah, that’s the thing. I think they mostly treat apnea and so if they’re not really sure what’s wrong with you, they figure that can’t hurt. Except that there’s no way I’m sleeping with one of those things.


  5. Nick Momrik says:

    Before Automattic I had a hard time sleeping, did a sleep study, and ended up on Lunesta. Then I got an awesome job, stress went away, and I sleep fine. Don’t disregard stress as a cause for sleep problems.


    1. Elizabeth says:

      I can happily say that I’m not really very stressed these days. 🙂 At least, I don’t think I am…


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