Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sleeping Peacefully

A week and a half ago, I spent the night in the hospital. No, it wasn’t an emergency – I was scheduled for a sleep study. Those of you who have had me as an overnight guest know that I snore. What you may not know is that over the last few years, it has gotten worse, to the point where I have woken myself up at times. Worse yet, my wife tells me that I actually stop breathing for seconds at a time, while my body struggles for air, until I finally start again with a gasp.

It doesn’t take much research online to discover that these are symptoms of sleep apnea. After several months of loving nagging from Rita (powered by her real worry that some night that gasp wouldn’t come), I finally went to sick call and got an appointment. I got there at 8:00 p.m. and watched a short video while the nurse wired me up – sensors on my forehead, my temples, my nose, my cheeks, my neck, my chest, and my legs. As if that wasn’t enough, the room was wired with a camera and microphones.

I was afraid that with all that gear on, I’d have trouble getting to sleep. My worries got worse when he told me I needed to sleep on my back – something I never, ever do. As it turns out, though, the written report tells me it took less than 17 minutes for me to get to sleep.

More surprising, I woke up still sleeping on my back. Even more surprising, I woke up wearing a plastic mask over my nose. The nurse told me that if they got a solid reading of apnea during the first half of the night, he’d put a CPAP mask on me for the second half to try to find out how much positive air pressure into my nose it would take to keep my throat from closing while I sleep. I just didn’t expect to sleep through the change! But sleep through it I did.

I got the written report yesterday. In the first three and a half hours, my breathing problems interrupted my sleep 436 times – that’s 126 times an hour. In the next four hours, with the mask, they slowly increased the pressure to knock out my snoring and “respiratory events,” and got them down to 4 per hour.

There’s an excessively long waiting list for appointments at the clinic, but in a few weeks I’ll be fitted for my own CPAP. I’m hoping for all sorts of benefits – more energy, a more even temper, better concentration – but I’ll settle for keeping myself breathing all night. Those of you who have hosted me overnight and were too polite to complain about the noise…you may notice a difference next time!

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