When we think about health, we tend to think about doctor’s visits, medications, surgeries, even exercise and diet. But one of the things we seldom remember is that sleep is extremely important to our well-being.
This has become especially evident to me. Turns out, I apparently have obstructive sleep apnea. This is a widespread problem in which the airway collapses during sleep and air can’t get into the lungs. Consequently, I, and people like me, snore and have pauses in breathing. We gasp as the airway finally opens, air flows in and oxygen returns to our O2-starved cells. And it happens all night long.
Snoring always seemed like an annoyance, and it is. However, I’ve come to realize that aside from the annoyance of snoring, sleep apnea has severely degraded the quality of my sleep. I know because, for years and years, I’ve been able to fall asleep … at the … drop …
I joke, but I’ve unfortunately been very sleepy while driving. I used to think that was because I worked nights and evenings and was just overly tired. But, in fact, it’s mostly because I don’t sleep deeply and consistently. And that’s because of sleep apnea.
Far more than an annoyance, sleep apnea has some nasty health side effects. It contributes to heart disease, heart failure, stroke, obesity, cardiac arrhythmia, diabetes and accidents.
However, all is not lost! There are tests for sleep apnea. Traditionally, sleep apnea is diagnosed in a sleep lab, where the patient goes and spends a night (or two) attached to monitors that record how many pauses he or she has, and how low the oxygen level in their blood drops. There are even home test kits, which are cheaper and which insurance may cover (or which can be paid for out of pocket).
Treatment for sleep apnea can involve many types of therapy, including devices to hold the mouth open, surgery to take away excessive tissue in the throat, alteration of medications, or weight loss. But a fairly common therapy involves a CPAP machine (it stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure), which involves wearing a mask that maintains air pressure in the airway so that the snoring and pauses don’t occur.
I’ve long suspected that I have it, and I’ve finally decided to get the test done. I’m hopeful that in the near future, I’ll have nights of deep sleep followed by days in which I don’t drift off at the computer. Or in church.
If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, please have yourself evaluated — because your health depends on the quality of each night’s sleep.
Here are helpful links to more information: