Sunday, November 21, 2010

Losing Sleep in the Name of Reserach

Shortly after Kerrington was born, Joel and I were invited to join a longitudinal research study that examined the sleep habits of infants and their parents.

University town.  What can I say?

It sounded interesting.  Lured by the promise of compensation and just a bit of clouded judgment due to new-baby euphoria, we signed on the dotted line.

There you had it.  Our child would aid scientific research.

It worked like this: When Kerrington reached her one-month birthday, she, Joel, and I each wore a watch that recorded our movements for one full week.  We were required to click a button on the watches whenever we went to sleep and whenever we woke up, both for nighttime sleep and any naps we took.

Apparently, the recordings would discern the restfulness of our sleep based on our level of movement.


It sounded simple enough.  That is, it sounded simple until you consider how many times a one-month-old falls asleep and wakes up over the course of a day.

Keeping track of my own sleep was more challenging than I had anticipated, too.  Each night I would settle my head on the pillow and click my watch, knowing that I'd be awake again in a few hours to nurse the baby.  Intermittently I'd steal a look at the red glow of the alarm clock, growing more alert with every glance.  Now it's 11:14.  Now it's 11:32.  Now it's 11:49.  This is not good.

Dyslexia would set in.  Oh man, it's 12:34 already.  Or was that 12:43? 

Days would blur into one another.  Last night I woke up twice.... unless that was two nights ago.

Just like focusing on blinking or breathing -- two natural activities that deteriorate into unnatural ones and spiral into hyperventilation and unsightly eye-twitching when you overthink them -- focusing on sleep exposed a latent predisposition to insomnia.

Whenever I felt cynical, I contemplated violently shaking my arm to skew the data.  Joel suggested that we ought to wear the watches on our ankles and see if we could convince anyone that we were on house arrest.

In addition the watches, we documented all naps and nighttime sleep in writing, answered demographic questionnaires, and completed a daily phone interview with the researcher.

Did you take any naps yesterday?  How long did it take for you to fall asleep?  How many times did your baby wake up last night?  How many times did you wake up?  For how long?  When you woke, how refreshed did you feel?  Could you rate the quality of your sleep?

I'm especially ill-suited to answer questions like these.  I possess no skill in pinpointing answers on sliding scales.

Strongly, moderately, slightly?  I have no idea. 

Scale of 1-7?  My mind goes blank. 

When I looked at my folder of questions, knowing that it contained hundreds of these prompts, my head spun.  My opinions disappeared like mist once the sun rises.

In hindsight, this is nothing new for me.  Even while in labor, I found myself internally wrestling over the "on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is your pain?" question.   

Eight?  Nine?  Seven?  This is pretty awful, but I could handle more, right?  So would that be a six?  And a girl's got enough to think about during labor, so come on, could you please just send in the anesthesiologist?

On the final night of the week we measured our cortisol levels by collecting saliva samples.  Not that I'm competitive, but I originally hoped that the researcher would contact me to share that I had the lowest stress levels ever recorded in the history of recording stress levels.

So far, this hasn't happened.  There's something about sticking a paper swab in your mouth for 90 seconds while watching your newborn gum hers into a mushy pulp that you'll slide into a test tube and store in a Ziploc freezer bag next to your frozen peas and chicken nuggets that doesn't aid relaxation.


At the end of the week we submitted our forms and watches.  Then we promptly forgot about the study until Kerrington turned three months and we repeated the process.  Just this past week, we completed our third week-long session to measure Kerrington's sleep at six months. 

The researchers didn't say this, but I'm pretty positive that she's blowing other six-month-olds off the charts.  To celebrate, I plan to get a good night's sleep and indulge in a nap. The best part?  No clicking necessary. 

My cortisol levels already are going down.

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