How to Get Paid to Do a Sleep Study
Selling Yourself to Science
I recently embarked on the interesting and unusual adventure of participating in a paid nine day sleep study. I found out about the study through an add on Craigslist. I have learned a lot about the business of becoming a paid volunteer by going through the process and would like to share my experience and give some tips to those looking to make some money doing paid sleep studies of their own.
Getting the Gig
I saw an add on Craigslist seeking volunteers for a 9 day sleep study in Boston Massachusetts. I thought it sounded interesting and shot off an email looking for more info. Within twenty four hours I got a phone call from Peter. I would get to know Peter pretty well over the next four weeks or so. He was polite, informative, and courteous as a rule. He explained in great detail what they were looking for and asked me about 20 minutes worth of questions. These questions related to my sleep patterns (they were looking for healthy sleepers for this study, no insomnia etc.), my overall health, my schedule (would I be flexible enough to jump through their many hoops), any drugs I took (prescribed or otherwise, this study sought females 18-35 who took little to no prescription drugs, did not smoke, or use over the counter meds regularly). He explained to me that this study was a 9 day in lab sleep study looking at the effects of light on circadian rhythms. It would require three weeks of preliminary data collection, and two preliminary interviews to take place in Boston. I scheduled my first meeting with Peter for the following week and my adventure began.
When I met with Peter he reviewed a large packet with me, about 15 pages of detailed descriptions of what would happen to me during the nine days I spent at Brigham and Women's Hospital in the sleep lab. He then reviewed what I would need to do (starting that day) leading up to my Lab stay. For the next three weeks I had to A) sleep a set eight hour schedule every night, (I choose 10p-6a) I would have to call Peter when I went to sleep at 10p and again when I awoke at 6a. B) wear an actiwatch, which is a small light monitor which straps to your wrist and monitors light and movement (this thing can tell if you're sleeping your set schedule, and if you're taking naps, or taking it off). C) refrain from the use of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and any and all medications including multi vitamins, over the counter cold and pain medication, supplements etc. I would be given several urine tests to be sure I was not breaking that rule. I then was given a physical exam, and gave a urine sample to test for any health problems that would make me ineligible.
I drove home to Maine with my list dos and don'ts. I structured myself right away. I had a sleep log to track my sleep and wake times, I set my cell phone alarm to 9:45p and 5:45a respectively. If I missed any of my call ins I would not qualify, if I tried to bend or break the rules I would not qualify, and I wanted to qualify, so I took it seriously, and if you want to do a sleep study you should too. They want clean data, and if you do anything that could affect that data they will simply pass you over and move on to the next volunteer.
It was interesting sleeping in such a rigid schedule, even for me a very regular sleeper. I noticed within a few days that my body adjusted and I became very sleepy after 9:30p and would wake up just before the alarm every day. I felt odd getting up at 6a on my days off, but soon learned to enjoy the extra time. Beware outside interference on you sleep schedule. It is very important that you follow the schedule exactly, and they expect you to be asleep at those times, not just sitting in a dim room. Don't let other family members or friends ruin your hard work. The sleep and wake times are nonnegotiable.
I got that classic caffeine headache within twenty four hours of not drinking coffee. It lasted about two days, and was at times blinding. Of course I could not use aspirin or acetaminophen, so I just drank water and herbal teas and got through it. Herbal teas were great for me overall. Watch out for hidden caffeine in chocolate, decaf coffee which is not caffeine free, tea (green, black, chai all have caffeine only caffeine free herbal teas are safe). I would recommend reducing caffeine use before your study if possible, this will help shorten the ensuing headache.
I had a second appointment in Boston about two weeks into my preliminary work. I had an eye exam, a psyche evaluation, and sat down with Shidab the project leader. He reviewed again, item by item, what I could expect in the sleep lab. I would have an IV in my arm the entire time. I would have to wear a core body temperature thermometer the entire time. There would be no clocks or windows in the lab and I would not be allowed at any point to know what time or day it was. I would be subjected to varying degrees of light including dim and very bright lights. I would be required to complete 2 CRs. CR stands fro Constant Routine, and it means you sit in bed without getting up, moving as little as possible, and without sleeping for anywhere from 24-70 hours. During that time you eat many small snacks, rather then meals, which are all the same, for me it was tiny PB&J sandwiches and OJ. I agreed to all of this and signed my consent form. I was about 12 days away from entering the lab.
When I arrived at Brigham and Women's Hospital with my suitcase of books and Pajamas I was ready for anything, which was good, because the next nine days proved to be challenging and strange. Everything happened exactly as I had been told it would, and yet there are many miles of difference between someone telling you you'll have an IV and getting one, someone telling you you'll be awake for 24-70 hours and actually sitting in bed in a dimly lit room unsure how long you've been up and how long you have to go. Overall I would say that it was never horrible or painful, but often uncomfortable and tedious.
I found the staff courteous and professional, my room was clean and plain, white walls, bed, desk, and that's abou it. I was required to take computer tests throughout my stay which were dull and got progressively more terrible as I moved from nervous, to bored, to exhausted, to a point beyond exhaustion which may have bordered on insanity. I had some free time the first two wake periods, but after that I was either in CR or doing light exposure tests that prevented me from reading or writing or doing much of anything. I found the techs, nurses, and doctors interesting and kind, they were definitely the best part of my stay.
The worst part was without a doubt the Constant Routines. I had 2 of them in my 9 days in the lab. Upon exiting, my project leader Shidab, told me they had been 50 and 30 hours respectively. I was in dim light throughout both CRs so my idea of reading many books to get through quickly evaporated. I could just barely read in that light, and when I became tired it was impossible. I should have brought more music and books on tape, and would recommend them to anyone doing a similar study. I could not watch movies as the TV screen gave off too much light. Mostly what I did was play cards and talk with the Techs who were in the room with me constantly. I had computer testing every hour (though I thought at the time I was doing them three or four times an hour!) which became progressively more difficult. These are performance/alertness tests involving clicking a mouse when you see a number appear in an empty box, clicking right or left for particular letters that appear in a series and so on. Also at the end of each test you rate your tiredness and mood.
I truly did lose track of time, especially after my first 50 hour CR. It was very important for my well being that I stop thinking about or trying to track time, as that was futile and stressful I had little control, as I was told when to sleep, wake, shower, etc. and the best thing for it was just to relax and be in the moment. Know that you are volunteering, and can leave at anytime, and that many people before you have survived the ordeal and lived to tell the tale. The day a woke up and was told to take a shower and get ready to be discharged was absolute elation. I had set a goal of completing the damn thing and I had done it! It was exciting and satisfying. Going out that door into the bright, bright light was a wonderful feeling. I was tired and a bit weak but overjoyed to see the sky and my loved ones again. I had missed my family and was so grateful to give them hugs when I got home.
For my particular 9 day sleep study, and the three weeks leading up to it, and the two preliminary visits, I received $3,000. This amount is paid about four weeks after you are discharged from the Lab. If at anytime either before or during your lab stay you quit or are disqualified, you are paid for what you have completed (ie $150 for each day spent in the lab, $45 for each week wearing the actiwatch etc.) however when you finish the final day of the study you get a $650 bonus, so you absolutely want to complete the study if you can. You will not get your money the day you leave the Lab, it will be mailed to you up to four weeks later (and this surely varies at different sleep research facilities). When you complete a study you can not do another study for three months.
The different studies vary greatly, as does the pay. They tend to range from 3 - 39 days and the pay is based more on difficulty then length. For instance there are several 14 day studies that pay less then what I received for my 9 day study, however they do not require an IV or CRs. You will want to choose a study that matches your willingness for discomfort. If you are not comfortable with an IV and blood draws do not sign up for a study where you will have an IV for 9 days! Make sure the study requirements are 100% ok with you before you get in there.
If you are interested in a sleep study you should check out this site : http://sleep.med.harvard.edu/research/recruitment
They have all different kinds of studies and seek all different kinds of participants. Also watch Craigslist as many different sleep study recruiters place adds there. Paidfocusgroup is another good sight to check out for more opportunities across the country.
Sleep studies are interesting and challenging adventures. They are a good way to make some quick money, and you get a great experience to tell your friends about. I am glad I participated in my study and I plan to do one again in the future, however I do not take them lightly, it is very much like a job and can test you inner strength and perseverance. If you are interested in a sleep study I highly recommend that you check out the sites and get in touch with a recruiter today!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.