On Sleep

I’ve always had a pretty unhealthy relationship with sleep.  We never really got on too well.

Throughout my life, I’ve had moderate trouble with insomnia off and on, along with pretty awful nightmares, both recurring and not.  I’ve also just never been all that good at going to sleep.  Sleep has never really been a great priority for me.  I got enough to keep myself going and figured that was fine.

Until about two and a half years ago, when I started sleeping constantly.

It started about a quarter through 2011.  I was unemployed at the time, and had been for awhile.  I was bored and a little down about things.  I started taking frequent naps and randomly falling asleep while I was reading or watching something — even some times when I was playing video games.  I started waking up frequently in the night to use the rest room, something I’d never done very often.  It was odd, but I chalked it up to being bored and unemployed — it’d all be sorted out once I got back to work and got in to a regular routine.

And then it didn’t.  It just got a whole lot worse.

The last job I had was located in a different province, and when I was driving my belongings out there, my Dad came with me since I’m not much of a long distance driver and I wanted some company.  We stayed in a couple different hotels during the trip and while I was getting myself set up in the apartment I was moving in to, and he told me that he thought I might be having some sleep problems.  Apparently I was snoring very loudly and it sounded like I might not be breathing very well.  He suggested I get tested for Sleep Apnea.  I rejected the idea immediately — I was fine, I’d always snored and again, I was adamant that if I just got working again everything would be okay.

But it wasn’t okay.  I started falling asleep at work for a few minutes almost every day.  I slept away at least two evenings during the work week and often a good bit of my weekend as well.  The problem was, I really didn’t know what to do about it.  I was pretty sure after a few months that my father had been right and that while I may not have sleep apnea, I should at least go to the doctor and get myself checked out, because there was certainly something wrong with me.  I approached my supervisor at work, and she recommended that I contact the public health nurse at the municipal government I was working for.  The PHN would likely have the name of a decent, local GP who was willing to take on new patients.

Off I went to the doctor, and once I told her my symptoms, she automatically referred me to a respiratory home care company, who in turn booked me for a home sleep study.  A home sleep study basically involves you wearing a terribly uncomfortable apparatus strapped around your chest, a heart rate monitor, and tubes in your nose.  All together, these things measure your oxygen levels while you sleep, which should pretty accurately tell you whether or not you’re breathing steadily.

My results were pretty worrisome.  I was stopping breathing about 60 times per minute and my oxygen levels were dropping to dangerous levels while I slept.  I was, essentially, auto-asphyxiating.  Constantly.  I was almost immediately given a trial on a CPAP machine, which generally looks like a gas mask and pumps a flow of air in to your airways to prop them open while you sleep, and then my days of sleeping like a normal person began.

I learned a lot of interesting things when I first got diagnosed.  I learned that the terrible heart burn I’d had for so many years wasn’t due to poor diet or drinking too much coffee, it was actually irritation in my esophagus and upper stomach caused by my overactive diaphragm, which was furiously working to pump air through my closed airways.  My problem with nightmares was likely exacerbated due to the fear response my brain was having to not being able to breathe properly.  I actually realized after the treatment started that I must have had sleep apnea for quite a long time, because I had had those symptoms for years and the fatigue had only started in 2011.   It turns out that it was likely my smoking habit that kept the fatigue symptoms at bay.  I had always had a persistent cough while smoking, and I believe that that cough was helping to keep my air ways open to some extent while I slept.  When I quit smoking in 2011, I opened (or really closed I guess) the floodgates of fatigue.  Go figure — I thought quitting smoking was supposed to be good for you.

All these problems are gone now that I’m being properly treated with a CPAP machine, but I have to say that there are some definite drawbacks.  Having a chronic disorder or illness is a new experience for me and it’s been a challenge to work everything in to my routine.  Travelling is more difficult now that I have to haul the CPAP machine around with me everywhere — it has to be carried with you on a plane and you have to haul it out of its case during security checks.  Camping is pretty tough too, particularly since battery packs don’t come standard and they can be expensive.  I’ve also discovered that I suffer from some kind of chronic nasal congestion, which requires me to wear those nasal strips to keep my nostrils open while i sleep.  The congestion has proven to be the most significant problem, since there are days when even the strips don’t work and I have to take decongestants, which always make me feel pretty crappy.

I’ll take it, though, even with the problems.  If you haven’t lived with some type of sleep disorder, you have no idea how important a good night’s sleep is to the quality of your life.  I have so much more energy, I’m more alert, and my mood is far more stable.  Yes, i sleep with a machine on my face, but I’m grateful for it every bloody day.



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