24 July, 2011

When the air is rare...

For a long time I have been battling exhaustion. I simply could not get out of bed. 3 alarms were needed to get me up, and then I would drag through the routine of the day. I could never believe it was time to get up when the alarm went off. I chugged coffee by the pot to get my way through. I assumed this was all because I am a very busy person. I have 2 jobs, am in college and have a sweetie and 4 dogs, let alone the rest of the zoo to look after, resulting in an average of 5.5 hours of sleep a night, sometimes as little as 3 or as much as 7.

I was wrong.

In May, I went to the doctor. My exhaustion was going to get the better of me, my blood pressure was creeping up. I had headaches when I got out of bed and a sore throat every morning. My sweetie reported I've always snored, but that my snoring had gotten worse over the last 2 years and now I would sometimes cough or choke in my sleep.

The doctor referred me to a pulmonologist, who ordered 2 sleep studies to determine what was wrong with me and why I could not seem to get rested.

Well, long story short, I have sleep apnea. On average, my sleep was being interrupted 29 times per hour by respiratory arousals - meaning I would partially wake up due to difficulty breathing, but not awaken completely. She estimated in 8 hours of attempted sleep I was getting less than 1 hour of actual restful deep sleep.

I have obstructive sleep apnea. The doctor says this is partially because I have an "impressively long" soft palate combined with my obesity. I have a strong family history for sleep apnea as well, at least 2 generations that I know of.

Obstructive sleep apnea happens when you relax and go to sleep, and the soft parts of your throat that comprise the airway collapse on themselves, making it difficult for air to pass through. This results in snoring, coughing and lack of breathing. When a lack of breathing occurs, the brain tells the body to begin waking up to get AIR. All of this partial waking up disturbs the deep sleep that is needed for rest.

When awake, my airway is open, like this.

When asleep, my airway collapses, like this.

Sleep apnea is a serious condition worth diagnosing and treating, as I am learning. Based on my sleep study test, the pulmonologist prescribed a CPAP machine. This machine delivers air through a mask that seals over my nose. The pressure from the air through the mask into my airway keeps the soft tissues from collapsing, allowing me to breathe. When I exhale, the machine lowers the pressure automatically making it easy for me to push air out.

To calibrate the CPAP machine, the doctor ordered a second sleep study. During the study when I was connected to the CPAP, my respiratory arousals decreased to 0.4 per hour. Yep - less than ONE. Further, I achieved a plane of deep restful sleep within 5 minutes of going to sleep. In the previous study it took over 2 hours before my first restful sleep. I was shocked to get those results.

So, now I have this next to the bed:

And this strapped to my face while I sleep:

The CPAP is a smart little machine. It is also silent. The only noise sounds like my own breathing just a touch louder because of the amplification of the mask. It is a million times quieter than snoring, I am very sure. It stores all my sleep data and when I go back to the doctor they can see how many times I stop breathing, how much my mask leaks, and how many hours I sleep, as well as how many days I use the machine. I went back for my first checkup the other day and they were STUNNED to see I had 100% days in usage. Apparently this is surprising.

It did not surprise me at all. Because I have NEVER FELT BETTER. I no longer need coffee in the morning to function, I no longer need 3 alarms to awaken from sleep. I wake up feeling refreshed and ready to face the day. Am I tired sometimes? Yep. Getting too little sleep will do that to you. However, I am getting approximately 8x more sleep than I have been per night in years.

Because of my increased sleep and decreased caffeine use, my blood pressure has returned to normal. I feel like a new person. I can not overstate how much this little machine has changed my life. I've never even pulled the mask off while asleep. I look forward to putting it on, knowing how much better I will sleep.

If you have sleep problems, please go see the doctor. It is SO worth it.


Jenny Glen said...

I'm glad they figured it out! Now if they could just create a machine that would keep the animals from keeping me from getting a good night's sleep, perhaps I'd feel more rested too! Seriously, it's good that you got treatment before things got much worse.

BCxFour said...

Excellent! Isn't it amazing how much better you feel? My machine is slowly changing my life too, improving it every day - even though my compliance is not nearly as good as yours. What really shocked me is the reduction in craving's I have for carbs, sugar, chocolate, high fat foods that metabolize into sugar/energy to compensate for the constant exhaustion. Between our machines and the exercise we will get with our sheep, we stand a chance at actually losing weight! YEAH US!

Monique said...

Thanks guys. I can't believe the difference. I seriously feel like a totally different person.