From wired to tired: My sleep study story

Times reporter Angela Accomando participated recently in a sleep study at the newly opened OSF St. Elizabeth Sleep Center at 1601 Mercury Circle, Suite 2, Ottawa. 

The purpose of her participation was to get an average person's perspective on the procedure and share her experience with Times' readers.

Have you ever fallen asleep on the job? I have, but all to experience a sleep study and tell readers all about it. That and when my editor asked, "Who wants to sleep and get paid for it?" This mother of four, who hasn't had a full night of rest since 1994, pre-kids, was not going to pass up the offer.

All I knew of sleep studies before my experience was what I've seen on TV. I pictured a ton of wires and machinery, and several doctors in white lab coats viewing my every move, breath and sniffle from a window separating the room.

My husband joked I would probably fall victim to some kind of dream invasion, and my co-workers joked doctors would find no brain waves while I slept. But I paid little attention to their shenanigans. After all, I was the one who'd be paid to sleep.

Although I do not have any serious sleep issues, I was surprised to learn about 40 million Americans report having at least one of more than 80 known sleep disorders, including sleep apnea — breathing interruptions while sleeping. I also learned drowsy drivers are responsible for at least 100,000 reported crashes each year. Sleep issues can sometimes be blamed for memory issues, job productivity and psychiatric problems.

I arrived at the center about 7:30 p.m., pillow and pajamas in hand. After meeting the staff, including my sleep study tech Chris Pagakis, whose official title is registered polysomnographic technologist, I was whisked off to my room for the evening.

It was far from the sterile lab I had envisioned — more like a nicely appointed hotel room. The study center has four bedrooms, each with a queen bed, private bathroom, flat screen TV and ceiling fan. Two of the rooms are a bit larger to accommodate a parent should a child need the study. There is a bedside table with a few machines where the wires are hooked up.

What the room didn't have was loud children who are always hungry. How ever would I relax? And it did have a window on the exterior wall and was not filled with onlooking scientists.

After viewing a video about sleep apnea and completing a sleep questionnaire, Chris returned with supplies and the "hook-up" began.

First he cleaned the areas on my face where electrodes would be placed and applied a sticky paste on various places on my head. (You'll want to clean your hair thoroughly the next day because that paste might just be sticky enough to hold a building together.)

Then he placed the electrodes and accompanying wires all over my body. All in all I had about 35 thin, various-colored wires, a finger oximeter and a nose cannula, which is much like oxygen tubes placed in the nose. All of these gizmos and gadgets would be measuring things like breathing, brain activity (which yes, I did have as I slept — loving co-workers) and body movement.

I can't say it wasn't a little awkward to have all these things hanging off me, but I can say they were lightweight and not scary at all. Despite the look on my face in the photo above, I was not irritated or planning to lunge at my photographer for capturing me with such an attractive look.

The room is equipped with a night-vision camera and intercom system, which is how Chris and I communicated. He explained, despite what people may think, technicians are not permanently fixated on the monitor, watching your every move. Instead they look more for notable physical movements, like sleep-talking, sleepwalking, thrashing and restless legs. Most importantly, they are looking for interruptions in breathing.

I have a friend whose husband sleep-eats. She couldn't figure out where all the snacks from the pantry were going until she caught him scarfing down the snack cakes and cookies, (versus the broccoli florets and carrot sticks in the fridge) all while he was totally asleep.

When Chris was finished applying the electrodes and wires, I was allowed a few minutes to get used to my new science project-looking self, send a selfie to my kids — per their request — and use the bathroom before the wires were connected to machines. Ironically, after almost an hour of getting wired and hooked up, I suddenly was rather sleepy.

Chris returned to the control room, "Starship Enterprise" as one of the staff called it, and began calibration of the equipment per basic commands I was given. I was asked to look in the four directions with only my eyes, move my feet, clinch my teeth, fake snore and breathe only through my nose, then only through my mouth. Chris explained a successful sleep study will include at least six hours of deep sleep.

I watched a little television and quickly fell asleep. I had heard horror stories about folks unable to fall asleep or stay asleep during these things, and although I do suffer those issues on occasion, I was surprisingly comfortable and had no problem drifting off to dreamland. From what I recall, I woke briefly only twice, one of them because Chris needed to reposition the nose cannula, and before I knew it, it was 6 a.m. and the study was over.

Removing the wires took only a fraction of the time it took to place them and by 6:15 a.m. I was on my way home.

In just a few days I will receive the results of my study, after they are reviewed by a board certified physician. In my case, that will be Dr. Kaninika Verma, medical director of the hospital's new sleep center and sleep medicine specialist.

Because I was not at the center for a bona fide medical issue, it explains a certain portion of my relaxed state and ease falling asleep while being tested, but overall I believe the comfortable homelike room and kind and knowledgeable staff made the experience unexpectedly pleasant.

In recalling those first several weeks after bringing a newborn home, I'm reminded how sleep deprivation and/or lack of deep sleep can really mess with your life. I would certainly recommend having a sleep study done if you're having any kind of sleep issue markedly affecting your life.

Dr. Kaninika will lead a free program about sleep disorders at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8, in meeting room 1 at the hospital. Following her presentation will be refreshments and a tour of the sleep center.