A recent home sleep test for sleep apnea has highlighted for me the importance of improving sleep health.
Obstructive sleep apnea involves the throat muscles blocking the airway during sleep. This leaves sleepers starving for air, which can happen many times during the night, and it can lead to lots of complications.
The role of sleep is important and worth exploring. The website of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has information about sleep deprivation (https://www.nhlbi.nih.-gov/health/sleep-deprivation/health-effects), which includes this statement: “After several nights of losing sleep — even a loss of just 1 to 2 hours per night — your ability to function suffers as if you haven't slept at all for a day or two.”
Sleep apnea symptoms include being sleepy during the day, snoring, waking with a dry mouth and gasping for air when waking. But it can be hard to notice on your own, and it can take a partner to observe that you’ve stopped breathing during the night.
The treatment typically associated with sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure, more commonly known as CPAP. You wear a mask over your face, which keeps the airway open while you sleep.
It is not a good time to be in need of a CPAP machine. A massive recall, as the Associated Press reported in early November, has “stoked anger and frustration among patients …” The recall involves foam in the machines that can “break down over time, leading users to potentially inhale tiny black particles or hazardous chemicals while they sleep,” says the AP.
You might think that would put you off CPAP machines, but here’s an observation from the AP report I don’t think I’ll forget: “Most patients are better off using a recalled device because the risks of untreated
still outweigh the potential harms of the disintegrating foam, physicians say.”
Serious business. You might be able to dodge CPAP if a mouth guard can provide a similar benefit. To get an indication of whether this can work for you, make a snoring sound, then jut your jaw forward and see if you can still make that snoring sound. If you can’t, the mouth piece, designed to keep your jaw forward, might do the trick.
In the year 2000 I wrote a series of articles about sleep and as part of that project spent a night at a Gaylord Hospital sleep lab in New Haven. Apnea, as I mentioned in that report, “is a Greek word that means ‘want of breath.’” While they do everything they can to make you as comfortable as possible, sleep lab technicians are attaching electrodes and other monitoring devices and “when they’re through,” I wrote, “you can’t help but feel a bit assimilated, like the Borg from the ‘Star Trek’ television series.”
Because of that experience I was a little apprehensive about my recent home sleep test, and was surprised by how unobtrusive it was. Absent was the “ticklish nuisance” I’d experienced with the nose monitors, for example. It’s a good idea to seek help if you suspect a sleep disorder.
You might not be someone who goes in for New Year’s resolutions — I’m in that crowd — but my take is improved sleep health is a most worthwhile item to put on the list.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at firstname.lastname@example.org.