Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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August 27, 2012

A bad night's sleep could have fatal effects

— 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.")

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