By Pat Dooris 2/02/07
So there I was in my allergy doctor's office --- trying to explain that I could not breath at night.
Besides that, my wife was complaining I was snoring louder all the time.
The lack of breath bugged me. The snoring did not---but I love my wife enough to investigate that too.
My doctor is Mark O'Hollaren---a smart, kind and patient man who puts up with non stop questions from aggravated patients like me.
'Cmon---Doc---I was telling him. The world is full of drug companies with really smart scientists. There must be something I can take that will let me breath---and sleep at night!
He reminded me I already pop a pill twice a day and use a nasal inhaler. (As far as I can tell I'm pretty much allergic to everything).
Let me ask you---he said---have you ever been to a sleep clinic?
Nope. Not once.
How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? he asked. Are you rested or still pretty tired.
Still tired, I told him.
How about snoring---do you snore allot?
Yep--that's why I'm here doc!
And its getting louder? he inquired.
Yes. Sometimes my wife moves to another room.
Uh huh, he continued. How do you feel during the day---take any naps?
Doc, I told him. I could fall asleep right now---right here.
How about your memory? He wanted to know.
Ah---I do forget some stuff.
Hmmm, he said. We definitely need to get you into a sleep clinic. I think you have apnea.
Apnea, explained, is when you stop breathing while you are asleep. I think he said it happens mostly during REM sleep.
The soft pallet in the back of your throat flops down and your tongue sags back (delightful thought eh?) totally blocking your airway.
Slowly, the amount of oxygen in your blood falls, until your brain notices and sends you an alarming message.
WE'RE DYING HERE---BREATH!
The mind brings you out of REM---you get a nice big lung full of air and descend back down into REM where the whole thing can happen again.
Here's a more exact and detailed description from the American Sleep Apnea Association.
I'd heard of apnea but never imagined I'd have it. I grew up with an incredible father who snores loud enough to shake the house. Snoring is normal in my family.
As for being tired---I push myself hard and have a zillion things going on---so I figured being tired was normal.
No, Dr. O'Hollaren said, its not. He told me it could lead to high blood pressure and a serious chance of heart attack at a young age.
That got my attention. I plan to live a long time.
He gave me a name and phone number and told me to call.
A week or so later I found my self driving at night to the "sleep lab" of the Pacific Sleep Program.
They hooked me up with a bunch of wires---on my skull---near by eyes---on my chest and legs---and told me to have a good sleep.
The room held a bed and chair and TV and a red light in the ceiling that never turned off.
It was not the most comfortable night---but I did sleep--- eventually.
The next day the technicians told me I'd stopped breathing a few times during the night---but they'd have to study the results more closely to know whether I had a serious problem with apnea or something else.
A week later I was back. Yep---you've got it, they said.
Now its time to find out what we can do about it.
The program is run by Dr. Gerald Rich. He told me I'd quit breathing 30 times an hour---every two minutes---during the sleep study.
You have "moderate" apnea, he said.
Dr. Rich explained there is no cure to apnea and unlike my allergies no pill.
The solution, he said, is something called the CPAP.
The CPAP is a machine about the size of a video game. It has a quiet hum to it---and blows air through a tube into my nose all night long.
The idea is to keep the airway open and stop the apnea and it works.
Its definitely something that takes getting used to--but I have.
The snoring has stopped.
I now wake up in the morning feeling quite rested.
In fact, after the first or second night I woke up feeling stiff.
I called Dr. Rich who said there's nothing wrong---you're just not moving all night long anymore. Your body is resting.
I rarely take naps now. My memory is much better---I recently amazed my wife by remembering the number of the baggage claim area we needed
to use when we flew to California.
My dreams are now amazing---feeling much richer---if that makes sense.
At a recent check up, Dr. Rich's assistant told me the apnea episodes are down to one a night---and I assume the machine overrides even that one.
But after three months of using the CPAP it still feels a bit odd each night as I put it on.
The constant air blowing in reminds me of military flights I've had with F-15's or B-52.
At high altitude, during refueling, the oxygen is blowing so hard into the pilot's mask they can barely talk.
So that's what I tell my wife and myself each night as I pull two straps on over my head and snug the nose holes of the tube up to my nostrils.
Time to go flying.
There's plenty of air to breath.
Here's a couple other links on apnea:
link to information on apnea and kids