Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 27, 2012

A bad night's sleep could have fatal effects


CNHI

— I have a dear friend who has kept me alive for more than 15 years. It's called a CPAP machine.

I have a condition called sleep apnea.

A doctor once told me any man with a size 17 collar or higher probably has sleep apnea or ought to be tested. I don’t know the criteria for women, but anyone who gets up frequently at night likely has a sleep disorder.

For about a decade, I obviously had sleep apnea, but it was not diagnosed.

I had a terrible time falling asleep and an even worse time staying asleep. I am a late night reader, and I commonly fell asleep in the living room with a book on my chest. I am lucky I am not a late-night smoker; I would have burned down the house.

I became a late-night eater and a caffeine fiend. I would snack all day and drink massive amounts of soft drinks to stay awake during the day. I got heavier and heavier. Since obesity is a major contributor to sleep apnea, my rapid weight gain made matters worse.

I had never heard of sleep apnea and didn’t know its symptoms. Like most who have sleep apnea, I had no idea I had problems breathing at night. I just knew I wasn’t sleeping well.

Finally, a doctor I knew casually - I was helping him implement an employee benefit plan - said I might want to get tested. An overnight sleep study showed I had sleep apnea and had it bad. The technician awoke me during part of the test, as she thought I stopped breathing.

Without that study, I suspect I would have stopped breathing permanently long before now.

My doctor sent me home with a CPAP machine that looked and sounded like a mid-size vacuum cleaner. (CPAP stands for "continuous positive airway pressure.")

Every night since I’ve put on a mask before going to sleep. Tubes attach the mask to´the CPAP, which blows air through my nose all night.

The result is I sleep soundly. I don’t wake up feeling like I just came off a three-day drinking binge. I don’t have to drink a case of Diet Coke every day to stay awake. I rarely get up in the evening. I've stopped wandering around the house like Kane on Kung Fu.

The actual machine has improved dramatically. The one I own now is quiet and about the size of a small loaf of bread. It’s been all around the United States with me.

I’m glad they improved the CPAP noise factor. There were trade-offs for my sleeping partner. The machine was large and made a lot of racket. On the other hand, I stopped snoring and was much happier. I was also much healthier.

Sleep apnea can kill you quickly but usually kills you slowly. It contributes to heart disease and high blood pressure. It gave rocket fuel to my obesity. I stopped gaining weight as soon as I started the CPAP treatments.

Not sleeping well made my life miserable. I felt horrible, especially in the mornings, and lived in a constant state of irritation.

The people who make CPAP’s ought to put me on the payroll. I constantly push people to get sleep. I can diagnose sleep apnea from a mile away and tell my story to anyone who asks.

For whatever reason, you don’t hear a lot about sleep apnea. People don’t know they have it, or if they do, they don’t treat it properly. They don’t like to fool with the CPAP machine, or they suspect it might disturb their sleep partner. (Your death will disturb your sleeping partner even more.)

You are far more likely to live a happier, healthier life if you are treating your sleep apnea.

My CPAP is my companion and friend each night as I drift behind the wall of sleep.

---

Don McNay is a columnist for the Richmond (Ky.) Register. Contact him at don@mcnay.com.