Do You Have Sleep Apnea?

A woman wearing anti-snoring chin straps

Every night I go to sleep with a machine strapped to my face, and it’s wonderful.

Used to be that I’d fall asleep while driving so often that I had my kids trained to pull the hair on my arms to keep me awake. I’d routinely fall dead asleep during meetings at work, and even once during a job interview. When visiting friends, I’d always end up dozing off on their couch. I even used to catch myself falling asleep while standing in line.

Coffee only had a limited effect. Herbal stimulants could only do so much. It was bad. I thought I had narcolepsy.

My doctor pegged it, though — she said I probably have sleep apnea. The moment she described what that meant, I knew she was right. People often told me that I snored loud, and then stopped, and then started again. During camping trips my snoring would scare other campers — my friend’s wife even thought I was an angry bear.

Spending the night at the local sleep lab confirmed the diagnosis. When I’d go to sleep, my throat would slowly close and cut off my airway. I’d stop breathing. My lungs would fight for air, which would wake me up only enough to gasp and open the airway again. Then, drifting back to sleep, it would happen all over again. All night long. Waking up every five minutes.

No wonder I kept falling asleep while I was driving. So many times I’d nod off and then come back just split seconds before disaster! It was because I wasn’t sleeping at night.

The solution to the problem turned out to be a machine called a CPAP, which stands for “Constant Positive Airway Pressure.” It’s basically a specialized air pump with a hose and a mask. The mask comes in various designs, all meant to put air into your nose at a specific pressure that’s just enough to keep your throat from closing while sleeping.

Let me tell you, I was very dubious of being able to sleep with what I considered a SCUBA apparatus strapped to my face all night. But being that it was so hard for me to stay awake in the first place, it only took me twenty minutes to drift off even with the strangeness of the contraption. I slept so well that first time, I woke up a new person. Literally. It had been so many years since I actually had a full night’s sleep that when I finally did, I felt like I’d just woken up from a coma. It was amazing.

Even now, over 20 years later, I’m awake all day long. I never fall asleep while driving. I don’t snore anymore. I’m a totally different person. The CPAP doubles as a white noise machine, and is usually much quieter than a fan. You can usually get your health insurance to pay for it — mine did, twice. Even if not, you can now find them on the Internet for a quarter of the price they used to cost.

A beneficial side effect I’ve found — and my doctor has confirmed — it may also solve any acid reflux problems you have at night.

I’m writing this to help anyone facing the decision of going with a CPAP to know that it’s not horrible — it’s wonderful. And I’m hoping that if someone else out there recognizes these symptoms, to please go to your doctor before you fall asleep while driving.

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