[NOTE: The original version of this post was thrown together in about half an hour and then uploaded immediately a few minutes after 7PM Saturday Night. The result was a rather disjointed melange of words that may or may not have conveyed what I had hoped it would. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight and a little more time, I have gone through the text and both revised and expanded it. The result, below, is the article I wanted to write but did not have time to Saturday night. By the time you read these words, the original article will have been deleted. If nothing else, this exercise at least proves to me that I can once again stay focused long enough to write 1700 or so words that are more or less coherent when I have time.]
As I have previously mentioned in this space, in August of 2015 I was diagnosed with moderate to severe Sleep Apnea, a sleep disorder that causes the afflicted person’s airway to close while they are asleep, thus making them stop breathing.
Eventually the lack of oxygen causes the brain to wake up and make the body resume breathing. Then, the airway closes again, the person stops breathing, and the brain wakes up… The process repeats itself multiple times every hour, all night, usually without the afflicted person’s knowledge. That is because the brain never wakes to full consciousness.
Sleep Apnea is a serious medical condition. When left untreated it can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease (and heart attacks), diabetes, stroke, memory loss, and other problems. Sleep Apnea sufferers also often snore very obnoxiously, to the irritation of their bed partners.
The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) estimates that in 2013, an astounding 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths were caused by drowsy driving. They further state that their estimate is a conservative one, and the true number of fatal crashes due to drivers falling asleep at the wheel could be as high as 6,000.
More information on the subject of drowsy driving can be found at the CDC web site and at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
No one knows for sure how many of those crashes were caused by drivers suffering from some form of sleep disorder who fell asleep at the wheel, but it is a safe bet that a significant percentage of them probably were.
Millions of Americans, most of them men, suffer from Sleep Apnea and don’t know it. By my calculations, I developed it at least three years ago, maybe more. That was when I first began nodding off at my desk at work, which I then ascribed it to the fact that I am no longer a teenage boy and I needed to start getting to bed earlier.
Then, during my annual physical last year, my then-doctor suggested I might have Sleep Apnea after I told him about my daytime sleepy problem. He suggested I see one of the doctors at the Legacy Sleep Lab at Mount Hood Medical Center.
I did just that, and ultimately the Sleep Lab sent me home with a portable device that I wore to bed one night to measure and record my sleep.
The results of that test, as I have mentioned, showed that I have moderate to severe Sleep Apnea.
One of the two medically-approved treatments for Sleep Apnea is a custom-fitted mouthpiece that you get through your dentist. The mouthpiece forces the lower jaw forward, and that keeps the airway from closing. Last October, I began trying to get my insurance to pay for one, without luck. Owing to the price of the device, I let the matter drop for a time.
As time went by, I began to notice that I was feeling worse and worse in the morning, despite going to bed almost an hour earlier than I had been prior to the diagnosis. Finally it dawned on me that no amount of sleep was going to help.
Then there was the insomnia. People who have Sleep Apnea often develop insomnia, and at some point earlier this year I noticed that I would often wake up several times during the night. Unlike the Sleep Apnea wake-ups, with insomnia you wake up to full (or nearly full) consciousness. You are aware you have awakened.
That by itself would be bad enough. At first, I was always able to get back to sleep. After a time, that changed. I began to wake up at 2 or 3 o’clock and wind up tossing and turning most of the rest of the night, unable to sleep.
Between the Sleep Apnea and the insomnia, it was getting more and more difficult for me to get out of bed and go to work in the morning. If my condition continued to deteriorate at the pace it was, I could easily picture myself being let go from my job before the end of the year.
My fears in that regard were founded in the fact that my employer utilizes a punitive point system to punish unscheduled absences and late arrivals. Even someone like myself who has worked there almost 30 years is not exempt from this system.
Things reached a point where I had to do something, I could not go on waking up in the morning feeling both exhausted and just plain like crap. I told my dentist, “Screw the insurance companies, I’ll pay for the damn thing myself. Let’s do this.”
I went to the dentist’s office and one of his assistants made two molds, one of my upper teeth and one of my lower teeth. Two weeks later I was to return to pick up the finished product.
It was with great anticipation that I drove to my dentist’s office that morning. Unfortunately, something had gone wrong, either with one of the molds or the lab’s work.
After several minutes of vigorously trying to put the device into my mouth, the dentist gave up. The mouthpiece simply would not fit my teeth properly. His assistant came in and made a new mold for the one that would not fit, and they sent it off to the lab.
To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
The new mouthpiece finally arrived, and it has now been almost a month since I was able to begin using it and finally begin to get some relief. The results so far have been mixed, and it is a slow process. Some days I find myself feeling better than other days. The good days do far outnumber the not-so-good.
I also began taking Melatonin for the insomnia. Melatonin is a man-made version of a hormone normally secreted by the human pineal gland. When taken shortly before bedtime, Melatonin can help a person get to sleep and stay asleep. There is, however, mixed scientific evidence to its effectiveness.
I am not one to promote so-called alternative medicines. Most if not all of them are trash. Naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and the rest are nothing more than modern day snake oil. False hope and a waste of money, very much like religion.
Melatonin has not been a complete cure for my insomnia, but it appears to be helping. I am no longer waking up several times in the middle of the night. However, I am now waking up anywhere from fifteen minutes to almost an hour before the time the alarm is set to go off.
As frustrating as that is, it’s better than waking up at 2 or 3AM and lying there wide awake most of the rest of the night. And I am feeling better when I wake up in the morning on most days. Not 100% yet, but better.
Because of that, I am going to try to resume publishing reviews here, beginning on Saturday, September 17. The first album I am going to write about will be one to fill a gap that I inadvertently left earlier this year between JFASN #155 and #157.
I’m not going to tell you the name the album here and now. You’ll just have to tune in (pardon the expression) at 7PM on the 17th and find out. I am pretty sure you’re going to like it. 🙂
For more information about Sleep Apnea (sometimes called Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA), visit WebMD or the American Sleep Apnea Association. This is explicitly not a recommendation of any products or services you may find available for purchase on either site.
If you think you may be suffering from Sleep Apnea, do not use any information found in this or any other blog to make final decisions regarding treatment.
When I first suspected I might have OSA, I took a written test that I found online. The results of that test indicated that I probably did not have OSA, so I delayed making an appointment with the Sleep Lab.
The results of the actual sleep test were the opposite of what the written test indicated.
See a medical professional who has been trained in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. Only then will you know for sure.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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