I Never Really Was Sleeping, Was I?

I stay pretty busy like most of us balancing family and work. The fatigue that often comes along with long days and keeping up with your kid’s activities just seemed to be the norm. I would wake up mornings tired and no doubt sometimes from lack of sleep but most times, as I found it was more a lack of sleeping. I would imagine that going to bed around 10 – 11:30 in the evenings is pretty typical for most of us and even 6 hours of sleep would seem to be enough and certainly the 8 hours everyone says is a must. But what I found out is my body never really went to sleep for many years. Imagine the toll on your body being sleep deprived not to mention vital functions like your heart when it does it get its share of solid rest. How did I figure all this out?

Let’s step back a few years or so before I was wired up in a sleep lab. It was many years of working at a frantic pace, some weight gain that seems to come with age and infrequent exercise and then there was the snoring. My wife would wake me up to stop snoring and then tell me to go back to sleep. Imagine that, being woken up to go to sleep. Then there were those evenings every so often I would wake up gasping for air. Scary yes, but I figured, it was just one of those sleep events.

Tired and The Wife Affect

I can remember mornings where most of us wake up fresh and ready to face the day but I was lethargic and tired. Some days, minus a big meeting or the pure overwhelming to do list, it was a task to wake up. Again, I just figured I was tired. Then there was another phenomenon that was taking place that I, again, just passed off as what happens in your mid forties. That was getting up to go to the bathroom 3 and sometimes 4 times a night. You would think with all of this information, I would think something was up but it was another event that was the eye opener. The wife affect was the what brought me to the realization that maybe I am having sleep issues. The consistent request to wake up and go to sleep as a result of my snoring led to her then telling me she was listening to me sleep. Listening to me sleep? It was what she did not hear that alarmed me. She said she I would stop breathing in my sleep. Those conversations turned into her coaxing me to get sleep tested and that I need to get one of those breathing machined her friend said her husband wears when he sleeps.

Time for the Sleep Lab

I thought about and then I was on the phone with a close friend and telling him about all my symptoms. And much to my surprise he said “man, you got to get sleep tested and get you a CPAP machine.” “A CPAP” I responded, “What is that?” He then told me about it but more than that, he told me what a difference it has mad for him in his life. He said is was literally night and day because at night he would sleep sound and in the day was awake and refreshed. Between the wife and her continued request and the urging of my friend, I called my doctor and got in for a sleep test.

My bag was packed and I as off to the sleep lab one evening around 8 pm. I checked in and they explained the process and it was time for the hook-up. And was it ever a hook-up. It will remind you of one of those lab tests with monkeys or astronauts being all wired up from head to toe. It is not as bad as it sounds and actually no big deal at all. Just a bunch of wires stuck to your skin and nothing at all invasive. They then give you instructions and tell you what they will be monitoring from breathing to movements and brain activity. The last thing they tell you is that if you over a certain amount of episodes in an hour, after two hours they will put you on a breathing machine.

I was then ready to lay back watch a few minutes of TV and to fall fast asleep or so I thought. Before I knew it, the sleep technician was back in my room and administering my breathing mask. I asked, “Do I really need this – How long have I been asleep” The tech politely said “about an hour and we need to go ahead and get you on the breathing mask.” I just agreed but could not help but wonder am I really that bad? I got through the night and yes still had to wake once to hit the bathroom and that was an interesting feat with all the wires in tow.

That morning I asked the technician why I had to go on the mask so quickly and I got a polite response, you either had obstructed breathing or stopped breathing to many times within the first hour and it was necessary. We will get you the full test results within the week.” I went on my way and was a bit shocked and shared the evening’s events with my wife. There was an “I told you so” or two in the conversation but all in all I then was anxious to get my results and to hopefully get one of those CPAP machines I heard so much about from my buddy. My results were in and let’s get to the bottom line. I had an Apnea event over 80 times in an hour and my body oxygen level got down as low as 76% I was told which is very low. What is an Apnea event – obstructed or no breathing and with oxygen levels that low, the reality is for several years I was going to sleep but was never really sleeping.

A Rejuvenated Me

What I learned is that when you sleep, your organs sleep too. You entire body gets to rest and refuel and that sleep should be a time of energy rejuvenation. Sounds logical but think many of take for granted what that really means. I was also informed that after a few weeks on the CPAP my kidneys would sleep a bit better too so maybe I would not be getting up as often to hit the bathroom. And of course, this was the cause of my consistent fatigue and most likely led to many other behaviors such as bad eating habits and motivation to exercise or for that matter any extra exertion during a day. I was prescribed a CPAP and learned and at first I thought how am I going to sleep with that mask?.

I learned about an option for what is called a “nose pillow” which essentially sits right below your nose with a very light weight head harness. The nose pillow is hooked up to a tube that goes to the CPAP machine. The amount of oxygen flow is then regulated by the CPAP based on setting determined by your sleep technician. My first few nights took a bit getting used to and I am sure me putting on the head gear was really attractive for my wife, but it is really not that big of a deal.

After the first week of using the CPAP, I realized I actually slept through an entire evening and did not get up to go to the bathroom. I woke feeling like a different person and was not nearly as tired as past months. The machine makes minimal noise and my wife even commented that she likes it as it is like “white noise” that has also been proven to help with sleep. She even teases every so often about her wanting to use my machine. I can begin to express the difference the sleep test and CPAP has made in my life, not to mention the long-term health benefits that will serve me well in my later years as I am now approaching the ripe old age of 50.

I have to admit, I actually love sleeping with my CPAP machine and there is no doubt the difference when I sleep with it and the few nights I sleep without it. But, today, there are very few nights I sleep without my CPAP. It has become an important part of my nightly routine. The CPAP means I do not snore, I sleep soundly and, as long as I get to bed at a reasonable hour, I wake up refreshed everyday. So you see, I was never really sleeping all those many nights and hours I thought I was. So maybe I was never really waking up either. That has all changed. If you have any signs of sleep apnea, I would highly recommend a sleep test.


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