Get paid to sleep?!?
April 27, 2008 10:45 PM   Subscribe

Should I participate in a 4-week sleep study?

I always see these posts on Craigslist from legitimate hospitals looking for people willing to stay at the hospital for weeks at a time, usually for >$1000 a week, as a participant in a sleep study. (For example, this ad promises $5090 in 28 days.)

As a hard-for-cash college student with a part-time, on-campus summer job that I can abandon and return to at pretty much any point, I'm seriously considering doing one of these after finals end. But I need to know more.

Could I say, read a book? Work on pre-thesis research? Write? Watch movies? Work on web development / any random web surfing activity on my laptop?

Or should I expect something more like the eyes-open device from A Clockwork Orange, where despotic researchers refuse to let me sleep for days on end and study my bodily reactions to that, with a zillion sensors attached to my chest and head?
[More realistically,] will all the other participants be cocaine addicts looking for some quick cash? Can I leave the room or building ever? Is food provided and is the cost of that covered? Perhaps most importantly, are there any possible long-term negative consequences (psychological, I'd guess)?

Basically I'm just looking for any details and advice, from people who have been participants (or, even better, researchers). Anyone done this type of thing before? Some hospitals offer "outpatient" sleep studies that pay less — is that a better choice?

FWIW, I found a lot of AskMeFi archives about sleep studies, but they all seem related to people who may have sleep apnea paying for a diagnosis.
posted by the_arbiter to Work & Money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Contact the people running the study and specifically ask if you can a) read b) work on pre-thesis research c) write d) watch movies e) work on web dev f) whatever.

Lots of different studies, lots of different guidelines. Contact the people in the particular study that you're interested in and ask for details - they'll provide.
posted by porpoise at 11:07 PM on April 27, 2008

Is there something preventing you from asking those who are conducting the study these questions?
posted by number9dream at 11:58 PM on April 27, 2008

I knew someone who looked into doing one of these things for NASA. It would have required staying in bed all the time, other than toilet breaks. Any activity that you could perform lying down was allowed, though I don't recall if he asked about sex. In the end, he decided not to do it, so perhaps the restrictions were more than I remember. Call the study and ask. They are used to answering all these questions, and they aren't going to give you a hard sell. They'd much rather you know exactly what you are getting into than have you quit after a few days.
posted by happyturtle at 2:15 AM on April 28, 2008

I once did a methadone trial, and it involved an eight hour stint in the hospital once a week for a month. I know it's not a sleep study, but I think these impressions would be accurate across the board:

It's not going to be a Clockwork Orange style torture. There wont be anything that will be horribly painful, although it's possible there will be uncomfortable moments.

You'll almost certainly be allowed to read, unless for some specific reason they need you to not be thinking about much (which is pretty unlikely).

They'll probably take care of all your meals and bring them in- it's unlikely that you'd be allowed out for long periods, if at all.

When you leave, you'll be happy with your cash, but return to college with a renewed vigour to graduate and get a job so you can earn money doing something other than sit around.
posted by twirlypen at 2:30 AM on April 28, 2008

I have a friend who was the IT guy for one of the Boston-area sleep studies. He told me that in the observation room, there is a wall covered with pictures and desperate messages from study participants stating that they want to go home. They'd write these messages in almost anything, from pen scribblings that filled a spiral notebook to missives spelled out in ketchup and tater-tots.

It's not the boredom that got to most subjects, he said, it was the deliberate breakdown of their natural circadian rhythms and internal clocks required by the study. So, for that study, there was nothing allowed that would let one estimate time. Videos were limited to activity times, so you couldn't watch whenever you wanted, and even the lights were on their own demented schedule so you could not read whenever you wanted. There was no natural light.

So you should definitely check in with the study and ask them specifically what is allowed. Some of these studies are pretty eager for subjects and have been known to lie about what you can and can't do in order to make it seem easy. So be clear with what you're willing to deal with and under what conditions you will walk.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:58 AM on April 28, 2008

I once talked to someone running a sleep study but declined shortly after the expression 'rectal probe' was used. I was told rectal probing is the best way of measuring temperature during sleep, so it would have to be in there measuring temperature all night. And ain't no man going to take that route with me. (Apparently this point in the conversation was where most other potential volunteers lost interest as well)

Cough medicine trials, on the other hand, paid for much beer through uni. Met some fascinating people that way. You probably wouldn't run into many cocaine addicts in a sleep study (they test for drugs and anything else that could affect the results) but expect some interesting times.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:06 AM on April 28, 2008

One thing you should also be aware of is that you may be asked to sign a contract stating you will only be paid if you have the right sleep pattern.

I once considered doing something similar. I can't remember the precise details, but it would have required me wearing a motion sensitive bracelet that would track whether I woke up during the night. (I guess they were looking for people who could sleep continuously for 7-8 hours).

If I 'failed' then I was to be excluded without further payment.

Of course this is only fair as the researchers were looking for something specific. But if you are a fitful sleeper (or have other sleep problems) then be aware that they are likely to exclude you
posted by TheOtherGuy at 3:11 AM on April 28, 2008

Some sleep studies require the constant wearing of a flexible rectal thermometer. Among other things, this was a dealbreaker for one of my friends. The best way to find out what any particular study requires is to call and ask.
posted by prefpara at 5:09 AM on April 28, 2008

There are sleep studies, and then there are sleep studies. I have no idea what this four-week thing would involve, but I've been through several overnight sleep studies designed to detect and determine treatment for sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy and restless legs syndrome.

I just don't want these comments about rectal probes scare away people who have been told they need a sleep study to determine why they're so damned sleepy during the day. Although I had numerous electrodes attached to my head, chest and legs, there was no rectal probe nor any other bodily invasion.

Don't be afraid of an overnight sleep study. Left untreated, sleep disorders can lead to heart attack, stroke, traffic accident and other personal disasters.

For the four-week study, I agree with the other comments. Ask these people a lot of questions before you say yes. When you're being offered more than $5,000, you've got to realize the sleep study is going to be work, not leisure.
posted by Seabird at 5:55 AM on April 28, 2008

And on the other hand, I had a friend who participated in a sleep study for people who had unusual sleep patterns, and they were so keen not to alienate these freakish subjects that they decided to let them wear their monitors at home and go about their normal lives with some equipment attached to them. She was constantly forgetting to put her monitor back on.

She actually lied to get into the study anyway, so my suspicion is that this monitoring phase wasn't actually the real sleep study, but rather a preliminary phase to make sure she really did sleep more than 11 hours a night or whatever balderdash she told them. Still, she was under the impression that she was in a sleep study...
posted by crinklebat at 8:08 AM on April 28, 2008

I had a really good friend who worked in a sleep research lab facility here in Dallas (I believe she still does, but we've lost contact). Her lab setup (when I visited) was a sleep chamber with what looks like a hospital bed and a one-way glass wall on one side that covered half the wall. Her job was to sit in the observation area and monitor sleep patterns. The subject was typically filmed as well as being observed by a sleep technician. Her job was to more or less note anything really unusual; i.e. spikes in brain activity, self-inflicted violence, etc.

What the clients usually do is go in, have all their basics taken (heart, lungs, blood pressure, the usual), complete an interview about how that person sleeps, what the issue is (frequent waking, can't sleep, night terrors, restless legs, etc.), and then the nurse/assistant attaches electrodes to the client's chest, arms, head, etc.

Then, they dim the lights and you sleep. They record the full instance of you sleeping throughout an 8 to 10 hour period. My understanding from her is that modified sleep studies are just variations on this; i.e., administration of the drug vs. placebo, changing the lighting to simulate X environment, etc.

I can't speak to this specific study except to say that if there are drugs of any kind involved you will have to give blood and urine samples, most likely.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:01 PM on April 28, 2008

Any study done through a hospital (i.e., Brigham and Women's) and/or university in the US will have had to pass an Institutional Review Board (IRB), or ethics review. They cannot lie to you about what will take place in the study. Researchers are used to fielding questions from interested participants, and will explain the study to you. This seems like a lot of compensation, so it may be a pretty intense experience.

There are many other studies in the Boston area that are very short, pay relatively well and may be less invasive, such as ERPs or fMRIs.
posted by supramarginal at 6:10 PM on April 28, 2008

One comment about IRBs - it is possible that the researchers could lie to you or omit information about what's involved in the study, if they were able to make a very good case to their ethics review board about why the study could not be carried out without the deception and why the scientific value was so great as to make the deception worthwhile.

I can't offhand think of any kind of sleep research that would warrant that sort of exception, and it's certainly true that you could walk at any time if you became uncomfortable with the study, and that they'd have to tell you the truth when all was said and done. I would think an IRB-approved deception study is highly unlikely for sleep research. But sleep research isn't my area, so who knows?

Really, the only thing you can do is contact the researchers running your particular study. For a study this long and expensive, there's no doubt going to be a high cost to them if they get people in the study who drop out halfway through. So chances are they're going to want to be really clear with you up front - for their own sake, they will want you to know what you're getting into before they start so that if you're not up for it they have not wasted their time and money getting you through their screening process. Ask all the questions you can think of, and don't feel like you have to make a snap decision. You can take a consent form, walk away, and think about it.
posted by Stacey at 7:38 PM on April 28, 2008

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