Obstructive sleep apnea is the most undiagnosed sleep disorder in the country, affecting about 20 million Americans. It is also a contributor to diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. This is my story.
About ten years ago my wife kicked me out of bed. No, it wasn’t what you think (well not mostly), it was because she couldn’t stand the snoring. We would go to bed and within minutes I was snoring so loudly that she simply couldn’t get to sleep. So, she put me out on the couch in the living room, but even that wasn’t far enough away.
After awhile she noticed that the snoring would stop periodically and she was curious to see if maybe I was sleeping in a different position or what so she checked me out and noticed that during the periods when I stopped snoring I also wasn’t breathing. I was working very hard, chest pumping, to try and breathe, but I couldn’t get any air. Then I would gasp, take a few deep breaths and go back to snoring. She looked into it and decided that I should go into the doctor to ask about sleep apnea.
I looked into it a little bit and decided that she was out of her mind. I didn’t feel sleepy during the day, my stomach felt fine and I wasn’t undergoing any personality changes. The fact was that I was wrong on all of those counts, but the changes in my personality kept me from seeing it.
So, I ignored it for over four years, with my mental and physical condition gradually deteriorating the whole time. I became extremely irritable, I had trouble remembering things and I was not a pleasant person to be around. In addition to the personality changes, I experienced daytime sleepiness, stomach upset and other digestive problems.
Finally, my wife had had enough. She told me to go in for the sleep study or there were going to be consequences. That got through to me. I’m not exactly sure what the consequences would have been, but I’m pretty sure that they would have been dire. I went in for the sleep study and they checked it out. I had sleep apnea. Whatever. I had satisfied the condition of going in for the initial sleep study, so I didn’t need to do anything else or so I thought.
My condition continued to get worse, but I didn’t do anything about it for over a year. Finally, I had what alcoholics call a “moment of clarity” and went back in for the second sleep study. During the second sleep study, after hooking me up to what seems like four-hundred fifty seven wires, they put this mask thing over my nose that blew air. It made me very uncomfortable at first, but I did get used to it.
I never thought I’d get to sleep, but I did. I woke up the next morning stiff and sore, but I felt pretty good otherwise. I asked the nurse why I felt so sore and she took me into the control room and showed me the tape of myself sleeping. I didn’t move. I lay there like I was dead. As an added bonus, there was no snoring.
Finally, I was ready to know the whole story and figure out what to do next. I sat down with the doctor and asked him several questions.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is also known as obstructive sleep apnea. This condition (it is not a disease) is caused when the muscles of the throat are not sufficient to keep the airway open. There are many factors that can lead to this condition, but the primary ones are weight gain, excessive alcohol use and age. Older, obese men seem to be more likely to have sleep apnea, but it can occur in anyone at any age or weight. Some abnormalities in the palate, throat or tongue can also cause sleep apnea.