Thursday, June 9, 2011

"The Screening Period" - Infinite Rest

Previous Entry: Infinite Rest
For something that seems so obscure, so unlikely, so remote it was remarkably easy to find the closest sleep studies to me. A quick google of “sleep study portland maine” didn’t turn up anything promising, so I tried “sleep study boston” and the first hit was to the Research Study Subject Recruitment page for the Harvard Division of Sleep Medicine. For some reason the success of a simple Google search is still able to instill some sense of pride, of self-sufficient (search-sufficient?) DIY know-how. There was a list of about 20 active studies, each with its own tagline and then a short summary of what the study would entail. The taglines offered some paltry information about the studies they were representing, but I think their main function was not to inform, but to lure in potential subjects. One study’s tagline was “Need some light in your life?” Only in the context of sleep studies can such a seemingly innocuous question feel so sinister. And of course there was no indication in that study’s summary that light would play a role in the study, leaving one no choice but to conclude that they would be locked in a room with the lights on for God knows how long.

I ended up finding two studies that seemed worth looking into: one was a 9-day study that sounded pretty tame; the other was a 14-day study with a tagline that was something along the lines of “Do you like to read?”, to which I found myself silently and nervously answering “Who wants to know?” On September 21st I sent off emails to the coordinators listed for each study and waited for them to reply with more information. 14 days seemed like a long time to be confined in a hospital room, so I was kind of hoping that the 9-day one would pan out. I can’t remember the exact figure, but I think the 9-day study paid something like $2100. The 14-day paid $3000, which made the 9-day both more manageable and a better overall deal, too (if you do the math it comes out to about $230/day vs. $215/day, or $9.60/hr vs. $8.95/hr, assuming a 24 hour workday). The research coordinators emailed me back and asked me to fill out a brief questionnaire, which I promptly sent back to each of them. I heard back almost immediately from the 9-day coordinator with bad news. I was ineligible. Turns out that my medical history preempted me from participating in that particular study. Three days later I heard back from the other research coordinator, for the 14-day study. Dayna. My medical history checked out, but she said she wanted to follow-up on my questionnaire with a couple questions. “No, Dayna, I don’t smoke marijuana anymore, and haven’t for quite some time.” Questions answered. I asked her some questions of my own – no, I couldn’t continue to take fish oil supplements; no, exercise is not allowed; yes, a DVD player is provided by the study – and scheduled my first screening appointment in Boston: October 7th.

Dayna provided me with a slightly more detailed description of the study. Basically I would be in a hospital room for 14 days, unable to know what time it was and required to read for up to 5 hours per day on either a tablet computer or a book. Not so bad. The screening period actually sounded a bit more difficult to finish than the study itself, like a huge sundae that starts off OK but makes you feel nauseous by the end but you have to finish it anyway just to prove a point to your parents: there was the ice cream: for the three weeks prior to the study I’d have to maintain a sleep schedule of going to bed at 10:00 PM and waking up a 6:00 AM, and I had to call and leave a voicemail on Dayna’s phone every night when I went to bed and every morning when I woke up. That would be rough. There was the whipped cream: dietary restrictions were imposed, meaning no alcohol, no nicotine, no OTC drugs, no caffeine (which means no coffee or chocolate), and no recreational drugs were to be consumed for three weeks. That would be fucking rough. And there was the cherry on top: I’d have to wear a device called an ActiWatch, which is basically a wristwatch except instead of monitoring time it monitors movement and light levels, at all times. That wouldn’t be too rough, but it sounded pretty weird. And for the sake of the metaphor, the hot fudge was that I’d have to go down to Boston twice before I could begin the study to fill out some paper work and give a urine sample and prove that my psyche was a stable one – you know, just the usual stuff. But as we all know, the hot fudge is always the best.

My first appointment in Boston was a slow breeze. Hours of pages of forms to be filled, personal information to be printed clearly, bubbles to be darkened, skimmed-at-best agreements and waivers to be agreed upon and waived with a check mark. The longest and most tedious form was a questionnaire consisting of around 400 personal statements, varying across a spectrum from normal and well-adjusted to psychopathically deranged, that the questionee has to agree or disagree with. It was designed as a psychological test, but I think there's crossover potential for attention disorder testing. "I get along well with my parents" -- fill in the T (for True) bubble. "I sometimes see or hear things that aren't there" -- well that's a kind of complex question. I mean, do dreams count? Who's to say what is or isn't really there? Are they testing my ontological beliefs? I erred on the safe side and filled in the F bubble. "I enjoy succeeding" -- easy one, fill in the T. "There are days when I don't want to get out of bed" -- Days? How about weeks? But again, I don't want them to think I'm a loose cannon, so I fill in the F. A few hours later I was desperately filling in the final bubbles. At this point I had half a mind to go back and change some answers from the beginning: "I daydream about hurting people or being violent" -- well I didn't before, but put me in a room with whoever wrote this goddamn test and I really can't be sure what the voices would tell me to do.

The sleep schedule and dietary restrictions were not fun, but not absolute either. I knew that caffeine and alcohol were fully metabolized within a matter of days, so I wasn't worried about testing positive for either so long as I cut myself off a few days before the study began. And yes, I had to call in at 10:00 every night and 6:00 every morning, and for the most part, I really did go to bed and wake up at those times. But on certain nights, like Halloween for instance, there was no way I was going to be sober and in bed before midnight. And sure enough, by 10:00 I had completed an alcohol-infused metamorphosis into Spaghetti Man. Still, I called, left Dayna a voicemail saying that I was going to bed, set my cell phone alarm for 6:00, and put my ActiWatch in a drawer -- a dark, motionless environment that probably simulated sleep pretty well. And the next morning I woke up at 6:00 after a solid two hours of sleep, called Dayna and told her that I was awake, then fell back to sleep until 11:00. I figured that it might be a little suspicious that when the researchers took the readings from my ActiWatch they would see absolutely no motion at all for eight continuous hours on weekend nights, but I tried not to worry about it. I mean, for all they knew I was just a really sound sleeper.

After Halloween I more or less stuck to the sleep schedule; faking the 10:00 bedtime but then still having to wake up at 6:00 to call in was taking a toll on me, and I might have felt a twinge of guilt for being such a non-compliant subject. My start date had been finalized: November 12th. All I had left to do before then was to go down to Boston once more to get an eye exam and to be interviewed by a psychologist. Both were fairly ho-hum. For some reason they set up my eye exam at Vizio Optic in Brookline, which was exceedingly swanky -- the kind of place where you might expect to be served a cocktail while waiting to see the optometrist. But alas, no cocktails were served. The psychologist wondered if I was anxious about the study -- of course I was. The psychologist wondered what made me anxious. "Well, I'm going to be locked in a room with no windows for two weeks, so... there's that." He didn't press much more than that. Somehow he ended up telling me a story about a group of dreadlocked people -- maybe one could describe them as a commune -- who, one after another, would sign up for a sleep study and once they'd all completed it they'd pool the money they earned and live off that until it ran out and they all signed up for another study. I wondered if this was my future, professional sleep study participant. I don't think I could pull off dreadlocks, though.

No comments:

Post a Comment