for release March 29, 2002
by Melodie Davis
An Up-close Look At Sleep Apnea
For over 25 years, I slept with a snoring man. I don't any more.
Let me assure you we're still married and we still sleep together. But my husband doesn't snore anymore. I wanted to write about this because it is something so many people deal with. But I also don't want to raise false hopes, because the cure for him is not for everyone.
Actually, his problem was more sleep apnea than snoring. Apnea is where a person stops breathing for a short period of time, which in short, causes extremely bad sleeping. Many a night, I would lie there listening to him gasping for breath; he would shake and shudder himself awake, and then soon resume snoring. Next, he'd be silent for a period, and then gasp for breath again. This would happen repeatedly through the night. He would wake up tired and feel like he hadn't really been asleep. The experts say the real problem is that the victim never reaches the deep "REM" [rapid eye movement] stage of sleep where you dream and are truly restored.
We had been reading about sleep apnea for years and about sleep laboratories and studies, but what finally motivated Stuart to look into his sleeping problem was not me, but a friend's experience. So he went to a doctor, was referred to the sleep laboratory at our hospital, and checked in for his first sleep study.
That is an ordeal in itself, where you are hooked up to all kinds of wires, and then try to go to sleep while a technician (in the next room) observes your every twitch and a computer records your breathing and heart rate. During the first half of the night, the goal was to record normal sleeping patterns, and then during the second half, the technician tried out various masks to see which might help him sleep the best.
In layman's terms, the machine pushes air down into your throat through a little nose mask; the air holds open the throat so that the flaps of tissue don't fold in over your trachea and cause air to be cut off, (which is what happens with most people with sleep apnea and snoring). The machine then relaxes and lets you breath back out, and its set to match your normal breathing rhythm. In Stuart's case, all that air being pumped down his throat dried it out. So he had to come back for a second study to be hooked up to a machine with a humidifier that pushes warm moist air down your throat.
We finally made the mutual decision to try using the machine at home. The insurance company was experienced enough with these kinds of trials that they only rented the machine for us the first month or two, in case it didn't work out. It was a joint decision, because it is a big commitment both financially and relationally to change one's sleeping habits.
The first time I saw my dear husband hooked up to his hose and mask he looked like a creature out of Star Wars (maybe Darth Vader?), or like he was ready to go snorkeling. The machine only makes a light humming noise, which I didn't mind because it was like "white noise" covering up other noises in the house. He didn't have as much trouble as I thought he would have learning to sleep with it. The upshot of all this is that the machine has 1) reduced his sleep apnea; I never hear him gasping for breath anymore; 2) all but eliminated snoring; 3) has improved his sleeping somewhat, although he still doesn't feel like he is a very sound sleeper; 4) was not cheap, even though a percentage was paid by insurance.
After nine months with this routine, would he recommend it to others? You decide. His sleep apnea problem was rated moderate to moderately severe, so the machine has definitely improved his sleeping, but not as much as he had hoped (and we should mention that there are different types of equipment and machines). Coping with getting ready to go to bed is a daily hassle. Often he wishes he could just jump into bed, but he has to prepare the water for the humidifier, hook up the hose, and put the mask on. In appreciation for his enduring the mask (since I'm sleeping with a snore-free husband), I clean his mask and humidifier daily, and his hoses weekly. Even once he is asleep, the mask can become dislodged or the straps get tangled up.
The bonus is a complete elimination of snoring. It probably beats drugs or surgery. Increasingly, doctors say that a good night's sleep is so essential to everything else: your overall health, your work, your driving, your relationships. In all, I am personally grateful for the technology that makes all this possible, and he rates his sleeping as maybe 65-75 percent improved.
For more on sleeping problems, check with your doctor, <http://www.sleepapnea.org/> or call 202-293-3650 in Washington D.C. (American Sleep Apnea Association).
Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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