I have a sleep disorder. The first sign came after a night out in Providence with my friend from my old TV news job. I woke up in her apartment the next morning. She wasn’t happy—my snoring kept her up all night. Needless to say, I paid for breakfast.
A few months later, I constantly felt sleepy during the day and I was waking up several times a night. Coincidentally, I was assigned to cover a Women’s Leadership Council lecture at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center about sleep disorders. Paul Gross, MD, founder and director of Lahey’s Sleep Disorders Center presented cases he had treated, including a case of sleep apnea. His patient was an overweight man who felt sleepy during the day and snored. After hearing the parallels between that case and my own, I talked to my doctor and he scheduled me for a home sleep test at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center.
The Six Million Dollar Man? Not so much.
The home sleep test is wild. You strap a gadget to your chest, put a device in your nose, put your finger in another device and tape them all to yourself so they don’t fall off. I felt like the Six Million Dollar Man. I was hoping they would rebuild me and make me better than I was, or at least help me get a good night’s sleep.
The follow-up message in My Lahey Chart said, “Your test showed severe sleep apnea,” which didn’t surprise me. It turns out I was waking up several times an hour without even realizing it. Like in second grade when I took on extra spelling homework, I just can’t help but be an overachiever.
A month later, I slept at the hospital to be fitted for a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. The technician monitors your breathing and vitals by taping electrodes to you and putting a breathing mask on you.
The tech tweaked the air pressure the mask blew into my airway, preventing snoring and helping me sleep. This test determines how much air I need the machine to pump in every night. Once the air pressure was adjusted for me, I slept for four glorious, uninterrupted hours. I felt great the next morning and my doctor ordered me a CPAP machine, which was covered by my insurance.
How it Works
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one of the most common sleep disorders. While sleeping, the patient struggles to breathe because the airway collapses and blocks airflow. This causes the patient to wake up multiple times, interrupting sleep patterns and preventing him from entering the REM sleep stage.
Left untreated, OSA patients are at a higher risk of developing heart problems, diabetes and stroke. Even death is a risk and can occur as a result of OSA-induced heart problems, rather than OSA itself. Doctors recommend overweight patients lose weight. Studies have shown reducing BMI can reduce the severity of OSA and the heart problems that can accompany it. Patients who experience daytime sleepiness also run the risk of dozing off behind the wheel and causing car accidents.
The Moral of the Story
Sleeping with the CPAP machine was a game-changer. I noticed the difference the first night. I woke up alert and felt great. I was more productive at work and could think more clearly.
I’m still working on eating better and exercising more. My colleagues even invited me to their pilates class. (Sidenote: Bringing a 5’8” husky klutz of a man to an exercise class that requires quiet and poise was rough at first. Let’s just say hilarity ensued.) But I’m sleeping soundly and feeling great.
For more information on sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, contact the Lahey Sleep Disorders Center.