Apnea – The Loud Annoying Killer

Could you be suffering from sleep apnea?

I have sleep apnea, and have been treating it for 2.5 years.  Snoring is a symptom, although not all snoring is caused by apnea.  I am not talking about your run-of-the-mill snoring; I mean SNORING!!  I thought snoring was universal.  Snoring runs in my family – my brothers and I can easily drown out the sound of a chain saw.

Sometimes I can be a little stubborn and skeptical.  (After all, I did not hear any snoring, and it did not keep me awake.)  OK, so I snore a bit.  Doesn’t everyone?  I found out how much my snoring kept my wife awake, because she told me about it.

Sleep is very important to my wife.  Unless she gets 9+ hours every night, I wake up with a zombie.  I bring her a cup of coffee, in bed; she drinks it over 5 – 10 minutes; her eyes open to slit-level; I put the second cup of coffee next to her sink in the bathroom, and run to the kitchen; she smells it and gets slowly out of bed, and does that slow, side-to-side, living-dead sleep-walk into the bathroom.  Twenty minutes later, she is the living, breathing, woman I love.  But, that is when she gets enough sleep.

She tried earplugs, but the vibrations shook her awake, or gave her tremor-nightmares. (She lived in California years ago, and has not gotten over fear of earthquakes.)  I tried sleeping on my side, elevated pillows, breathe-right nose strips, sinus washing, those things you put in your mouth at night to keep your jaw positioned, only minor improvement.  Things came to crisis mode when I started waking up to an empty place in the bed.  I found her sleeping in another room.

Then I heard the word “Apnea;” sounded like a Balkan dialect.  How did this apply to me?  So, I went to the sleep doctor. At first, I did not believe it, even after I had my first overnight sleep study at an apnea clinic.

It took a second sleep study before I accepted the fact:  I do have severe “complex” sleep apnea.  The problem is not so much the snoring, but the silences, when no air is going in or out.  Without treatment, the study showed that, when I was asleep, I stopped breathing 67 times an hour, for 10 – 20 seconds; over eight hours, that would be 536 times per night, 5,360 to 10,720 seconds; 90 – 180 minutes; this is like holding my breath for one and a half, to three hours a night; my blood oxygen dropped to 89 – 94% several times each night (normal is 100%). Frequent interruptions to the sleep cycle can keep you from getting enough REM “deep” sleep, needed for quality rest and restoration of the brain.  That is not good for the brain, or anything else.

Things that could happen with untreated apnea:

  • High blood pressure
  • Forgetfulness
  • Depression
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Weight gain & difficulty losing weight
  • Lack of ardor
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Accidents
  • Nodding off during the daytime
  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Liver problems
  • Lower response to medications
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Spouse sleep deprivation
  • Divorce

Still skeptical, I ask, “aren’t these people just selling stuff?” Well, yes, no, yes, and yes, depending on who you mean by “these people.”  Yes, sleep clinics “sell” sleep studies, and they prescribe equipment to keep me from holding my breath 66 times an hour, in my sleep; no, the clinics do not sell the gear.  Yes, “durable medical equipment” companies sell the equipment.  And, yes, medical insurance and Medicare cover their share of the costs.

The doctor prescribed a heavy-duty, nighttime breathing machine called a “bi–pap.”  People with less severe cases use a similar machine called a “c-pap.”

I wish I could tell you that using the machine is a pleasure.  This would be a real treat, if you would find pleasure going to bed, wearing a plastic mask over your nose (and maybe your mouth too), with elastic straps to hold it in place, attached to a plastic air hose, attached to an electronic device that looks something like a portable radio, but without the music, that makes you feel like a scuba diver, or a jet pilot, and makes you sound like Darth Vader, or the announcer at a bus station.  Oh, you will need another elastic strap under your chin and over your crown, if you have trouble keeping your mouth shut, and only breathing through your nose. All this, just to keep breathing a few years longer.

It took me a while (60 nights) to get used to wearing it, AND sleeping; (you also need to remember you are hooked up when you get up in the middle of the night; it makes a bit of a mess when you sweep your bedside table clean with the air hose, in the dark, half asleep, waking your spouse, everyone in the house, and your next-door neighbors’ dogs.)  But, I am resolute; I use it religiously; now it only annoys me.  (Note: Any chances of spontaneous romance at night are, let’s say, ZERO.  Planning is the key.  It is sort of fun dating my wife again.  “Would Saturday about 8ish work for you, Sweetheart?”)

This is an amazing, computerized machine.  It monitors every inhale and exhale, to adjust to your normal breathing patterns and air pressure. It generates a constant flow of air at about the same speed and pressure you create when you inhale.  (If you close your throat, and open your mouth just a little, you can make the sound of the wind blowing; by pursing your lips a little tighter, you can make your lips sputter and vibrate.)

If you stop breathing, it blows air into your nose to fill your lungs, and gets you going again. The machine keeps track of sleep stoppages, and sends the results to the doctor.  After six months, the records showed only 1 or 2 brief stoppages an hour; not enough to cause any more brain damage.

I would encourage you to consider the possibility that you, too, might have sleep apnea.  If so, the treatment can change, even save your life.

Here are links to good sites about apnea.  You might want to check them out.

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/basics/symptoms/con-20020286

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sleepapnea

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/sleep-apnea.htm

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/central-sleep-apnea#1

 

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