Sleep Apnea Sufferers Have Secret Lives — And Increased Risks

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a medical disorder where a person stops breathing, often gagging or choking, numerous times in the course of a night’s sleep. However, as I learned from personal experience, the person with Sleep Apnea is usually unaware that any of this is happening.  They generally see themselves as having gotten a good night of sleep – but feel extremely sleepy throughout the day.
People with Sleep Apnea are known to have difficulty concentrating and remembering, and are at risk while driving motor vehicles. They are also reported to have difficulty working on hobbies, taking care of financial matters, and poor work performance in their jobs.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, there are 84 different sleeping disorders, with Sleep Apnea being one with several manifestations. Treatments for Sleep Apnea range from losing weight to changing positions while sleeping, to wearing a face mask hooked up to a machine that blows continuous air down the patient’s throat.  Moderate to severe cases might get the mask, plus an oral device to keep their mouths open during the night.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimate that 50-70-million Americans suffer from Sleep or Wakefulness disorders, with snoring being the most common indicator of Obstructive Sleep Apnea.  The long-term effects of untreated Sleep Apnea are increased risk for illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity. The risk for getting cancer, and increased mortality rate, is also predicted.
For years while I was growing up and starting out as an adult, various friends and family members would tell me that I snored like a bear and that I stopped breathing and woke up sputtering several times throughout the night. At first, I was in denial, asserting that this was impossible since I had no memory of it. 
In June 1999, I submitted to a Sleep Study.  I was able to bring a bag of various electronics and electrodes home that I wore while I slept. The machinery monitored everything from my breathing to my snoring, and went as far as to be able to tell if I woke up. 
A few days after I returned the equipment, I was diagnosed with a moderate case of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The medical report said that I stopped breathing 5-15 times each hour, usually for 30 seconds at a time. This meant that for several minutes each night, my brain was not getting the oxygen it needed, and explained the feeling of exhaustion that had become normal over the years.  I was issued a CPAP Machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) which below air in through my nose and kept me breathing throughout the night. I had never slept better – and my career took off as my brain began getting what it needed for me to thrive during the day after a full night of rest.
Thirteen years later, my wife had begun telling me that I was snoring – through the CPAP mask. Stubbornly, I told her that the settings were correct, and that we should leave any evaluation to the doctor. However, I would not make an appointment to be reevaluated because it meant doing an overnight stay hooked up to electrodes at a local sleep clinic.
Wired from Head to Toe for Sleep Study

That was until last week, when I realized that I was feeling more exhausted than I had ever felt. I made an appointment with the sleep doctor, packed up my pillow and drove 10 miles to the clinic for an overnight evaluation.  A very nice respiratory therapist hooked me up to their equipment, and told me to just be comfortable – and that they would be watching me via infrared camera through the night. (What actually happened is that I was awakened a half-dozen times either by the respiratory therapist, or by the mask we were using blasting off of my face as air pressures were increased to very high levels).

The end result is that over the years, my Sleep Apnea had changed. I now required a higher setting. And instead of CPAP, my case might be better suited for BiPap (Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure) because my condition was not so much obstructive, where the choking happens, as it was intense snoring and becoming awake – then falling back to sleep.  The clinician explained that as we get older, our bodies change, and that this was common.  The BiPap machine would work with my natural breathing. Instead of constant air pressure, like CPAP, it would be more of a rhythmic breathing – and at a higher setting.

Sleep Apnea is a disorder that can be managed via various treatments. For more information, visit The American Sleep Apnea Association(www.sleepapnea.org)

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