When I was married and living in Portland, Oregon my husband, Brian, said to me one day, ” You do this weird thing when you sleep.” He continued to describe how I suddenly stop breathing and then gasp for air and then go on sleeping.
He was describing apneas. These are periods of time, usually 20-30 seconds, in which sleepers cease to breathe. These episodes can number into the hundreds per hour. This could mean that, for someone with sleep apnea, eight hours of sleep is really only seven hours and twenty minutes. This may seem like a pittance of a loss but, these thefts of sleep can take their toll both cognitively and bodily.
People with sleep apnea are at increased risk for diabetes, obesity, auto and workplace accidents, academic problems and heart failure, which often happens during sleep.
When Brian first told me of my sleep anomaly I knew instantly he was describing sleep apnea. As a psych major sleep disorders were common topics for discussion in several of my classes. I was enrolled in those classes at the University of South Florida in the 1980’s. Sleep research in general was still rather new.
When I first learned about the disorder and the symptoms-feeling sleepy all day, involuntarily falling asleep, crankiness, snoring-resonated with me. But, I went into denial and continued with my usual 1980’s era college student life of working about 25 hours a week and attending four classes, trying to have fun and, as an afterthought, sleeping. I finally graduated, sleep deprived but, with a Bachelor’s of Arts in 1990.
It wasn’t until 2016 that I began to take seriously this disorder that I was convinced I had. Thank you Obamacare: I got into a sleep study at Orlando Regional Health Hospital. My insurance covered most of it. The study took place in a room that very much resembled a hotel room. The technician attached a series of electrodes to my head and body. They measured brainwaves and perspiration and other things.
A few weeks later I got my results: Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). On average, without the use of a CPAP machine, I stop breathing 98 times per hour. Upon hearing this, I thought, wow, no wonder I sleep for 14 hours on my days off.
I’ve had my CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine for a little over 2 years now and I can’t sleep without it. Even when my retail schedule is f**cked up and I only get four hours of sleep it is tremendously more restful than four hours without the machine. I am so grateful my insurance has continued to cover the device.
This brings me to another subject and a promise: so help me God, if those morons in federal power right now tamper with my Obamacare insurance and I lose my machine I will find an attorney to start a class action suit (so, obviously, I’m not in it for the money) and sue every single one of those pinheads who voted to dismantle any part of the Affordable Care Act.
Clouds over the Florida Keys, June 2005. My photo.