In the name of science
Before we departed to the land of ice, some really nice people from Monash University came to Kingston on a bit of a recruitment drive. Essentially, they were seeking as many expeditioners as possible to participate in a sleep pattern study over the winter period. The results of the study would be fed back to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in America. It is my understanding that among other things, NASA’s interest in the study relates to how the effect of living in a remote and isolated environment for an extended period of time would impact on normal circadian sleep patterns. But I may be wrong, because I am definitely no scientist!
So, for the past seven months, those of us who voluntarily became guinea pigs for the study had to undertake a number of tasks. Firstly, there was a daily sleep log, which only took a couple of minutes to complete. We also had to wear a watch that somehow monitored our movements. Then there was a monthly questionnaire about how we felt and our general mood, which only took about half an hour. These were simple little tasks that were easy to do and made no real difference to how I went about my business!
For me, the task that tested all my patience and commitment to the study came about at the end of each month. This particular task was conducted over a 48 hour period and involved providing a urine sample every 4 hours, 5 times a day. But it wasn’t providing the sample that took its toll on you or your psyche; it was the battery of performance tests that you had to complete on the computer, after providing each sample. These tests were known as Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics for Extreme Environments (ANAM tests) and each test took about half an hour to complete. It starts with a number of repetitive questions about how you are feeling and after the third time it asks if you are angry: believe me you get very tempted to hit the 'very much' button! From there you are launched into a series of reaction and memory retention tests that strain your brain, particularly when you are doing your last ANAM test of the day at about 11.00pm at night. The thing I will remember most about the ANAM tests is the blue screen background. I think that blue screen will haunt me in my sleep for the rest of my life.
I have finally completed the study now and whilst I am very happy to have made a small contribution to science, I am relieved it is all over.
Grant (Cotty) Cotterill