Imagine being semi-roused from sleep, gasping for air, adrenaline pumping through your body. Now imagine this happening 80 to 90 times per hour! While I rarely ever came fully awake, this was how I “slept” until a few months ago. I have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) a chronic condition in which the airway becomes blocked or restricted during sleep, causing the body to partially wake itself in order to resume breathing (American Academy of Sleep Medicine 3). Of course, this constant wake-sleep cycle does not lend itself to restful sleep, and left me tired no matter how long I slept. My life has changed now that my OSA has been diagnosed. Now when I go to bed I strap on a mask similar to those worn by fighter pilots. This mask is part of the treatment that allows me to get a proper night’s rest, like most ordinary people. Instead of OSA running and ruining my life, I have asserted control over OSA and my life; much a pilot commands his airplane.
I have always snored – it runs in my family. You could hear my maternal grandmother through two closed doors. While not quite that loud, my snoring often caused anyone sharing a room with me, including my first wife, to wear earplugs in order to sleep. I am one of the 5% of the population for whom obnoxious snoring is a symptom of OSA (American Academy of Sleep Medicine 3). Snoring occurs when the muscles of the throat relax, allowing the airway to partially collapse, restricting the flow of air. For me this restriction is so severe that it interferes with my ability to breathe.
Obesity is another risk factor for OSA that I have. Overweight individuals have more fatty tissues in the neck, which compound restriction of the airway (American Academy of Sleep Medicine 4). My OSA symptoms were reduced when I lost 80 pounds several years ago, but have returned as I have regained the weight. OSA tends to become more prevalent with age, and is more common in men than women – two additional risk factors I share. Nasal congestion, which I also frequently experience, also contributes to the development of OSA. I do not smoke, drink alcohol, nor do I take sleeping pills or depressants, but all of these things can contribute to OSA in individuals that use them (Mayo Clinic, sec. Risk Factors).
The immediate effect of OSA is lack of quality sleep. The constant arousal prevents the body from entering the deeper stages of sleep, which it uses to repair and rejuvenate itself. During my sleep study I never entered deep sleep in over two hours of monitoring. Lack of deep sleep causes the individual to be fatigued and can affect judgment (WebMD). For me I was usually tired during the day, even right after getting out of bed. My quality of sleep was so poor that extra sleep did not improve how I felt, and in some cases made me feel worse. Instead of getting the recommended eight hours of sleep, I would often get only four or five hours because I felt I got better use of the time by pursuing waking activities. While not a recent...