PHOTOGRAPHS BY JENNIFER S. ALTMAN
The room has all the ame- nities you’d expect at a good hotel: freshly laun- dered blanket tucked into the sides of a queen- sized bed, dark wood headboard, reading lamp, leather armchair,
flat-screen television, private bathroom.
But on the bedside table, there’s a machine with a tube snaking out its side. On the
wall alongside the television, video cameras
are trained on the bed. And then there’s the
stainless-steel tray table of disinfecting wipes,
cotton swabs, lengths of tape and gauze, dabs of
adhesive goop and a collection of long, multicolored wires.
Welcome to the sleep lab at Saint Barnabas
Sleep Center at Madison. Jack Li is here tonight
for his second sleep study with help from Kerry
Kelley, the lead sleep technician at the lab. Kelley engages Li in gentle conversation. They talk
about the national parks both have visited and
the intricacies of Li’s job as a systems engineer at
While they talk, Kelley adheres the wires
to different parts of Li’s body: six on his scalp
to measure brain waves (EEG); two on his
jawline and four on his legs to measure muscle
movement (EMG); t wo next to his eyes to
measure eye movement (EOG); and two on
his torso to track cardiac activity (ECG). She
attaches a microphone to his throat to detect
vibrations from snoring and a pulse oximeter
to one of his fingertips to measure oxygen
levels. Next, Kelley wraps two adjustable belts
around Li’s chest and stomach to measure res-
piration. Finally, she covers his nostrils with a
breathing apparatus that delivers continuous
positive airway pressure, or CPAP.
Now, good night and sweet dreams.
MUCH ABOU T SLEEP remains a mystery. Before
1953, when Eugene Aserinsky, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, discovered
rapid eye movement—a sleep stage during which
the eyes dart wildly under the eyelids—sleep
was a relative blind spot in the scientific literature. Dreams were left to psychoanalysts to interpret and artists to mine for inspiration. Over
the past three decades, science has unearthed a
flood of information about what happens in the
body and mind as we sleep.
Li underwent his first sleep study in 2006 at
CentraState Medical Center in Freehold after
complaints from his family about his loud snoring. As a result, he was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, a disorder that causes
sufferers to repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night. The apneas are marked by a violent snort or choking sound. During his test, Li
stopped breathing 70 times in one hour, or more
than once a minute.
The doctor at CentraState recommended Li
use CPAP. Li didn’t know much about CPAP,
but the idea of wearing a mask every night was
unsettling. “I told them I wasn’t really comfortable wearing something while I slept,” he says.
“So I asked for other alternatives.” The doctor
suggested a better diet and exercise, and Li
went on his way.
Almost a decade later, the 46-year-old Mount
no more wilt weigh my eyelids down And steep my senses in forgetfulness?”
—Henry IV, William Shakespeare