Sleeping like a baby when you have Obstructive Sleep Apnea

sleep apnea

Have you ever held your breath for more than 10 seconds underwater, knowing that at some point you’ll have to come up for air? Imagine holding your breath for more than 10 seconds while you sleep, not knowing that you’ve actually stopped breathing. If you or a loved one suffers from Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA, you know what I mean.

I’m an OSA sufferer. I’ve been one for six years, when I was first diagnosed in 2009. How did I know I had this health issue? My wife told me, “You snore like an annoying buzz saw and it’s keeping me awake at night.” I figured I was just really tired or that my sinuses were being affected by allergies.

However, the nail in the coffin was when I went to my aunt’s house on vacation and fell asleep on her couch after a 15-hour drive to Colorado to visit family. She knew about OSA since her husband suffers from it. When I fell asleep, she noticed I would stop breathing and then would gasp for air. When I finally woke up, she told me, “You need to get tested for this. I can see you gasping for air. I know what you’re suffering from.”

OSA is condition in which there’s partial or complete airway blockage during sleep. When we sleep, our body relaxes, causing the airway to relax too. If something is blocking the airway like excess weight or even swollen tonsils, at some point your body is going to work harder to breathe to get air into your lungs. My body was working overtime. It would only be a matter of time before something severe could happen as a result.

“Many people don’t even know they suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea unless a loved one like a spouse tells them they do,” said Banner Medical Group sleep specialist David Kukafka, MD. “If a person thinks they have this medical condition, I recommend they get a referral from their primary care physician, and one of our Banner Medical Group sleep specialists can administer the test. Once the test is complete, the sleep specialists will share the results. If it’s found the patient suffers from Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a course of treatment will be recommended.”

Banner Health offers an in-laboratory sleep study for which a patient comes into a Banner Health hospital or sleep center, and their vitals are monitored to find out how well a person sleeps.

Another option BMG offers in some areas is a Home Sleep Study, which can be done at a patient’s convenience at home. The Home Sleep Study device is easy to use, requiring very little set up. The patient gets the equipment needed, and applies a probe to their finger, in their nose and a band around their chest. Once the test is completed, results from the study are then given to a BMG sleep specialist who meets with the patient to go over results and devise the best individual treatment plan, if one is needed. Currently, BMG physicians offer the Home Sleep Study in Northern Colorado, including the Banner Health Clinics at North Colorado Medical Center and McKee Medical Center. Later this year, BMG physicians will offer the Home Sleep Study at most Banner Health facilities.

Now that I look back at it, the signs of OSA had been there all along for me. I just thought I wasn’t getting enough sleep because I was really tired throughout the day. If I went shopping with my wife, I had to go back to the car and take a short cat-nap because I was so tired. Was it my job? Was it my life? Why was I so tired? One time, my co-worker told me, “I think you’re falling asleep at your desk. I can hear you snoring.” At that time, I was 37 years old. I shouldn’t be falling asleep during the day. I should be energetic and alert. I realized something needed to be done.

Okay, okay, yes I was overweight, and yes, I had high blood pressure – all the classic signs of an OSA patient. Did I need a building to fall on me to realize I was suffering from this severe and potentially deadly condition? I guess I did. I thought I could beat anything, but I realized I was no match for this. I decided to tell my primary care physician that I needed to get tested. He referred me to a sleep specialist.

I went to the specialist and took the in-laboratory sleep test in which my breathing was monitored. The technician told me I was showing signs of sleep apnea. I was given a mask, which has a tube that connects to a continuous positive airway pressure machine, known as a CPAP machine, to help me breathe. Once the results came back, I was not surprised to be diagnosed with OSA.

So for the past six years, I’ve been using a CPAP machine with the prescribed settings to help me stop snoring. The machine has been easy to use. My wife is getting a lot of sleep, and for the past six years, I’ve been waking up feeling refreshed and not feeling like I have to take a nap throughout my day.

Now that I’ve experienced some major weight loss and exercise a lot more, do I still need the machine? I do still use it. However, my cardiologist suggested I take the test again to see if I need to have the machine reset to a lower pressure or even need it at all. Regardless, I’m glad I’ve had the machine. You never realize how important a good night sleep is until you start dozing off at the wrong time.

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