The other night I was getting ready to go to bed. My going-to-bed ritual is a bit more complex than most other people, because I use a CPAP. For the uninitiated, a CPAP is a device that combines a gentle air pump and a mask to pressurize your airway. This prevents your soft palate from sagging shut while you sleep… and it is this sagging that is the cause of many types of snoring and sleep apnea, where one actually stops breathing while they sleep.
I was diagnosed with sleep apnea about ten years ago, and the treatment is one of these machines. Many people have trouble adjusting to them – when you first get one, you are often confronted with the sensation of suffocating, even though you’re getting plenty of air. Add to that the discomfort of wearing a mask on your nose, the hose that attaches to the CPAP, and the general unattractiveness of it all, and you can see why most people who are diagnosed just skip the treatment altogether, preferring the disturbed sleep and other symptoms to the adjustment period.
As for me, I adjusted quite readily, and for people like me who are able to use the CPAP device, it makes a dramatic improvement in the quality of your life. For me, the symptoms that lead the doctors to look for it were my chronic sleepiness in the daytime, and some acid reflux while I slept. Adding the CPAP stopped both of those problems dead in their tracks.
So every night for the last ten years, I’ve put on my mask, turned on the machine and drifted off to sleep. The white noise generated by the machine is soothing, and you get conditioned to the pressure… it is almost as if it is a sleeping pill – putting the mask on puts you to sleep very quickly.
I have had this particular CPAP machine for quite a while, and because the machines are quite expensive and I no longer have health insurance, I have nursed this one along for about seven years. The only real problem it has is that the on/off switch has gotten increasingly tricky over time, and I (correctly) guessed that it was just a matter of time before it failed altogether. Instead, I have taken to unplugging the machine in the morning and plugging it in at night – the machine is designed to come back on if the power is interrupted.
The other night, as I was getting ready for bed, I plugged the machine in, and rather than starting up as it usually does, the lights blinked on and off, indicating that something was wrong. I have taken the CPAP apart in the past, trying to repair the faulty switch… and I did it again the other night, hoping that I would be able to clean some contacts or work some magic, and somehow get the old machine to start.
I dreaded the idea of trying to sleep without the CPAP, but I really had no choice. I would doze off… only to be awakened by my own snoring. After a while, I would settleÂ into sleep, only to wake up again, gasping for breath. After three or four hours of fitful sleep – and by fitful, I mean being awakened onceÂ a minute by any one of the three or four symptoms that come with sleep apnea, I felt like crap, and wondered why I even bothered trying toÂ go to sleep in the first place.
Since I had decided that the old machine was beyond repair, I searched the Internet and found a site where you can buy machines relatively inexpensively… So I purchased a new machine, but not before having to spend yet another night without my CPAP.
If you know anything about sleep apnea, you know that whatever sleep you get is very inefficient, because while you may only be aware of waking up a few times in a night, your body actually wakes up (at least partially) as often as two times a minute. You never get that deep, restful sleep without the assistance of the machine. So four hours of half-sleep, followed by another night of half-sleep, and I was quickly falling into a hole.
I realized that I had come to depend on this machine just to have a semblance of a normal life during my waking hours. Sleeping without a CPAP has now become a virtual impossibility, because even if you can get to bed early, the sleep quality is poor, and the other symptoms, such as acid reflux are particularly uncomfortable. Add to that the fact that people with untreated sleep apnea tend to be more susceptible to a number of ailments, mostly relating to the heart, and there is very little that is good about the condition.
Fortunately, the occurrence of sleep apnea is correlated to obesity, so to the extent that one can control his or her weight, you have some control over the apnea. I have been good in the past about keeping my weight under control,Â but I have been slacking as of late. The failure of the CPAP pointed out my dependence on the machine… and that I had created a lot of that dependence myself by letting the weight get out of control. By experiencing the sleep apnea symptoms, I was in essence giving myself a wake-up call… every thirty seconds, as I stopped breathing while I slept.
With all of my paperwork in hand and a freshly-refilled credit card, I ordered a new CPAP today, and as of a few hours ago, it was safely in some UPS cargo container, on its way to my increasingly sleep-deprived hands.
Once I had the order placed, I decided to take one last crack at getting the old CPAP working again. I had researched the idea of renting one for a few days, and the cost was $155, whether I kept it a day or a week. I thought that was a bit high, and if someone suggested that they’d give me $155 to sleep for a night without a CPAP, I figured I could do that… for $155. It would suck… and I would complain about it. But I would have $155.
I opened the old machine up once again, and took all of the business parts off the machine… and with a simple shorting of the switch, I was able to make it come back on. So, for tonight, I have the old CPAP, and I know the new one is on the way. My nights of terrible sleep are over… but not before I resolved to do something about it and get myself back into shape.
So while my day started with the idea of dreading the idea of retiring to sleep, I know that I now have not only a working machine, but what has (up until now) been a reliable backup.
So tonight when I go to bed, I am sure when I feel that familiar puff of gently compressed air against my flippy-floppy soft palate, I will drift right off into a mechanically-assisted slumber…
… like the Borg.