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Sunday Late Night: Sleep

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Point of personal privilege, and public service announcement for anyone who, like me, has been plagued by interrupted sleep, sleep flailing, bothered or frightened partner, or a growing need for mid-day naps along with logy-ness, tiredness, and lack of alertness: ask your doctor for a sleep evaluation.

I asked my doctor for one last summer, after being told my nighttime flailing and gasping/choking was simply fearsome (scary bear, ahem!). I don’t drink alcohol anymore hardly at all, don’t smoke anything or do any dope, and try not to eat or drink caffeinated items close to bedtime. I have the usual gotta-get-up-late-middle-aged-man syndrome in the middle of the night, but lately I’ve been awakened not by that but simply needing to get out of bed, read for an hour, and then try to go back to sleep. Sometimes.

If any of this sounds like you — especially the sleep interruptions or reported difficulty breathing — please ask for a sleep study. Most major hospitals have them now and many insurance companies cover them, I’m told, because sleep has become recognized as very important and contributory to other overall good health outcomes.

I finally got my sleep evaluation last night.

I don’t have a diagnosis yet since that has await the doctor’s appointment. He’s got about a thousand-page report of data to review about my seven-hour stay in the sleep clinic last night, but the sleep technologist recognized “apnea events” that met the threshold for putting me on a CPAP device immediately. And he did so. At about 2am he interrupted my already very interrupted sleep to quickly fit me for a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.

I haven’t had such restful sleep in a very long time. I woke rested and ready to go — at 6am! Never do I normally see that part of the day. And I walked about a mile and a half home, thinking it looked like the proverbial walk of shame except there was no one to see! And I’ve been awake and alert all day, not in a ‘wired’ way as with too much coffee, but pleasantly, humanly so.

The threshold, incidentally, for splitting the study and putting the patient onto the machine immediately? Twenty “apnea events” per hour. Imagine! Interrupted sleep every three minutes, or more — since each “event” can last a while as you struggle throughout your body for breath. And some people’s studies report many times more events.

Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s description:

The trouble with apnea is that it’s almost impossible to self-diagnose (because you are unconscious when it happens), and its symptoms are easily explained by other possible factors. Nodding off in the afternoon? Too much work. Snuffling at night? Just a snoring problem. Irritability? A character problem. Constant need for naps? Idleness. Before you know it, you’re addicted to Red Bull and constantly grumpy. Sound like you?

Anyway, if this sounds like you, try a sleep study. If you’ve got health insurance and a doctor you trust, congratulations. This is something I really recommend. As we enter late middle age, it’s truly amazing all the things that catch up to us, and knowing there is something that might work for me is really encouraging. I heartily endorse investigating this.

So does Andrew Sullivan, but don’t let that discourage you.

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Teddy Partridge

Teddy Partridge