Working in Australia
Australia is known among travelers for the possibilities to make easy money. Many people from Europe can get a one year work permit – called working holiday visa – and wages are quite high. For me as well that was one of the reasons to go to Australia – to earn a lot of money in a few weeks and then continue to travel. In the end I stayed a whole year – but I worked just a few months.
Here and in the next article I want to write about two very different and extraordinary jobs I’ve done.
Making money while sleeping
When I studied the job offers on the Internet a particular one caught my interest: Participants wanted for sleep study! Getting paid for sleeping? That sounded more like a dream to me.
They were looking for participants who were willing to stay for two weeks in a sleep laboratory under the following conditions:
It is not allowed to know the current time. That means no mobile phone, no laptop, no TV, radio or internet, no newspapers, no contact with the outside world.
You must go to bed and get up at certain times.
There are certain tests to do, questionnaires about emotional conditions and computer tests, reaction tasks, etc.
During the wake phases you have to stay alone in your room, you may read, watch movies or listen to music, however to lie down or even to sleep is not allowed.
Meals are prepared and taken with the other participants together in a group room.
During the sleep phase electrodes are attached to your head to measure your brain waves, the rooms are under camera surveillance at all times.
A small sensor on the wrist needs to be worn all the time to record the movement activity.
All that sounded not so bad but there was a catch. As for the test results the change in body temperature is important it must be measured frequently. That is done by a small sensor, a thin, flexible plastic tube which needs to be inserted and kept in your butt all the time. The temperature data is then recorded by a small box at your hip.
Let me say it this way: You can get used to anything.
4 Germans among themselves
So I applied and after a tour of the sleep lab and a test insert of the temperature butt sensor I got selected for the study.
Only when I arrive at the premises I get to know the other participants: Three young backpackers, all German. Everyone gets a room assigned equipped with a bed, a wardrobe, chair and table and a big screen, next to it a private bathroom.
At dinner we make jokes about our anal sensors and are curious about the first night. What is going to happen if we are not tired and can´t sleep? The staff, almost all of them young female students, assures us that this was never a problem in the past. Because this study is about different sleep pattern, two phases of sleep per day instead of one and also about sleep deprivation.
The first two nights seem to be normal but after the third night, when the lights go on and I have to get up, I feel like whacked. How long have I been asleep? Not more than a few hours I guess. The others feel the same way, at breakfast everyone is pretty tired.
After every meal a period of tests has to be done: Questionnaires, tasks about reaction time and a driving simulator with a steering wheel and accelerator. It’s not as exciting as one of those car racing games but rather dull. The graphics are simple and remind me of one of the first computer games ever: The road is just a gray line, a red box symbolizes the car and the requirements are simple: Obey the speed limit of 80 in bends and of 110 elsewhere and stay on the track all time. The simulation seems to go on forever and has a soporific effect.
The waking periods seem short, after the next meal I can to go back to bed. I try to guess the elapsed time and the days to keep a feeling of the real time. But without sunlight and external influences it is almost impossible. It doesn´t take long and I loose track completely. Time passes, the sleep stages are short, incredibly tired I wake up and with difficulties I drag myself through the waking periods.
Reading is hard sometimes, I almost fall asleep and I have to get up and move to stay awake. The others feel the same. We can talk and meet in the corridor but a longer stay in the rooms of the others is not allowed. Only at meal times we are together and compare our dark circles around the eyes. The fact that we are all Germans and that we share the same fate lets a sense of togetherness arise. We are so tired that we become really silly. Often we can´t stop laughing, crying almost about our stupid jokes and can hardly eat. The supervisors must think we are totally insane. Maybe they already know it from other studies, in any case they don´t seem surprised.
I spend my free time mostly with reading or writing. Only sometimes I watch a movie when I’m too tired for anything else. After some time we have completely lost our sense of time and think that the two weeks actually would be over soon. We begin to ask “For how much longer? Is this is the last night?” But the answer is always the same: ” I can´t tell you that. You will know when it is over.”
Fire alarm and evacuation
Only once in the two weeks we had direct contact with the outside world: We are just ready for bed, our heads are wired when the fire alarm goes off. The head of the study comes agitated in the lab, “We need to evacuate, quick!” Quickly we run down a fire escape out of the building. It is night outside, a cool summer night. Noises of cars around us, fire sirens coming closer, we get accompanied to the parking lot next to the building. The staff hands out warm clothes, they are prepared. The fire brigade arrives but after a few minutes it is clear it was a false alarm and we must return to our self-imposed prison, without sunlight, without noise, without time.
One morning we get informed “It’s over, after breakfast you are allowed to go” and we are all relieved. The last days seemed so long. Now the door at the end of the hall, which was always locked and through which the staff came in and out is now widely open. We can see and smell the freedom and pack our bags. Back at home I´m finally able to sleep long again.
Would I do it again? I guess so. I had free accommodation and free food for two weeks, no expenses, was able to read several books and to write the complete blog articles about my crossing of Australia. It was stressful too, to be always so tired and to have no exercise, always in the same room, but I also had a lot of fun with the other guys. And it was paid of course: AU$ 1,500 I got for the two weeks living in the sleep laboratory.