It’s after 9PM and I am awake. A few months ago, this would have been highly unlikely. A few months ago, I was living with untreated sleep apnea and, for lack of a better term, was not unlike a zombie. Settle in for a sleepy bedtime story, my friends.
Once upon a time, my husband politely pointed out that I was snoring. Loudly. We laughed about it, mostly. I shrugged it off, always. After a while, those polite mentions of my snoring turned into more concerned expressions of worry. “Sweetie, I think you might have sleep apnea. There are times in the night when you are gasping for air and you stop breathing. It’s scary. You should go see a doctor.” I always shrugged it off. Nevertheless, he persisted. “Sweetie, it was really bad last night. I think you need to call a doctor.”
Lather, rinse, repeat.
After almost two years of this scenario, and me having a harder time justifying the giggle and distract response I preferred, I reluctantly made an appointment with a neurologist/sleep specialist to surprise my husband on our 15th anniversary. Aaahhhh, marriage! Apparently, 15 years marks the CPAP anniversary.
A friend had recently posted about his own experience in a sleep study and his hopes for a more rested future. I summoned up all the courage I could muster and reached out to him. Tell me your secrets, oh wise and sleepy one. Gratefully, he did.
The truth is that life had become fairly intolerable. I had trouble waking in the morning, as restful sleep was a thing of the past. I trudged through my days, napping whenever I could. My husband would often take care of the kids before he left for work, waking me when he and my older son left for work and school. In the evening, after dinner, I would say goodnight, then retreat to bed, often by 7 or 7:30. Within minutes I would collapse and fall asleep, often waking at midnight or soon after, ready to disco.
These were the quiet hours of my day, my middle of the night party for one. I would often stream TV shows on my iPad, sometimes get a snack. I convinced myself that those hours were “me time” and, while I wasn’t sleeping, I was still resting, technically, reclining in bed, ear buds on, catching up on the best Netflix had to offer.
My quality of life had gone to hell. The fatigue was oppressive. I was sharp and cranky with my kids. I dreaded any event that kept me out of the house at night. Basic tasks like dinner and laundry were overwhelming. I honestly don’t know how my husband or sons put up with me.
It turns out I didn’t just have sleep apnea, but a severe case of sleep apnea. The two sleep studies I had showed that I was experiencing 70-80 “events” an hour — basically, I was waking up 70-80 times an hour, all night, every night. This was hard core sleep disturbance that involved both my brain and my lungs not functioning properly and not cooperating with one another. People die from this.
It was clear from the get go that a CPAP machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, yo) would be necessary. Dammit. CPAP machines were for old men, not me. The idea of needing to rely on air being forced into my nose via a machine because of lazy throat muscles freaked me the freak out.
My Dad relied on a CPAP machine the last twenty years of his life. It was big and loud and made him look like an elephant at night. Was this my fate? Yep, turns out, it was.
Five months into sleeping with the aid of a CPAP machine, I’m over my bad self, for the most part. Full disclosure, I had an extremely easy transition to wearing the mask and being connected to a machine to enable sleep. Gratefully, while I have severe apnea, I am treated effectively with a minimal amount of air flow. The machine, while annoying, is quiet and tolerable.
The truth is that my vanity is what prevented me from seeking treatment sooner. That vanity contributed to me and my husband and my children suffering from the effects of my sleep apnea for so much longer than was necessary. My health suffered, too. Sleep apnea contributes to high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes, depression, irritability, insomnia, and a host of other unpleasant possibilities. It is nothing to joke about, or ignore.
While I hoped for a complete turnaround, an Oprah style transformation, I can’t claim that, but I do note significant improvements, as do the three humans who live with me. I have more energy these days. I no longer dread leaving the house. I am once again able to exercise. My irritability has diminished and my concentration improved. Dinners and laundry have resumed being a tolerable level of drudgery. Naps are a luxury again, instead of a necessity.
If you think you or someone you love might have sleep apnea, I highly recommend attending to that ish. Today. Well, maybe not today, as it’s 10PM now. That right there is a miracle to me — writing and typing and thinking and producing at 10 o’clock in the damn night is not something I would have been able to do pre-diagnosis. CPAP FTW.
Nighty night, y’all. Lights out, mask on.