Sleeping overnight in an office building is not my idea of a good time. But it seemed to be the only way to figure out why I was always sleepy—head-nodding, please-may-I-put-my-head-on-the-desk sleepy—when I needed to be alert, such as at work or while driving.
So I was walking into a Chevy Chase high-rise at 8:30 pm, pajamas in hand. Maybe the experts at the Center for Sleep & Wake Disorders could tell me why I wanted to crawl back into bed soon after waking. On the 17th floor, the sleep techs awaited my arrival.
Nearly seven in ten people in the United States say they don’t get enough sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The most common disturbance that sleep labs diagnose is apnea, which—along with restless-leg syndrome, narcolepsy, and other disorders—can be treated with medications or special gear. Even if problems can’t be cured, most can be managed.
A technician at the reception desk hands me paperwork to fill out, and another shows me to my room. The clinician who recommended the sleep test told me the sleep center was just like a hotel. And it is, once you remove the carpeting, the television, the room-service menu, the full-size bed, the mini-bar, the little soaps and shampoos, the drapes, and the window. And then put the bathroom in the hallway.
I’m nervous about how the evening will unfold—a feeling that doesn’t bode well for falling into a nice, deep sleep.
A technician arrives with a bunch of equipment, most of which is going to end up on me. She takes a jar of paste and affixes pads with wires to my forehead, scalp, chest, back, legs, and arms. “Let us know when you’re ready to go to sleep and we’ll plug you in,” she says.
I climb into the twin bed with its single pillow and start to read. At about 11 pm, I pad across the hall to the bathroom so I don’t have to make the trip—wires and all—in the middle of the night. Then it’s time. A sleep technician plugs me into a box on the nightstand. He shuts the door, and I turn off my bedside light. It’s hard not to think about the fact that the technicians can see my every move on their monitors. And hear everything, too.
I don’t fall asleep quickly, and I don’t sleep well. I wake up several times, but I’m afraid to move much for fear of pulling out wires. I end up having to call someone to unplug me for a bathroom visit. It’s not a soothing evening. In the morning, a technician detaches me from the gear. I shower, then head for work.