Saturday, October 07, 2006

In Pursuit of Sleep

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for Thou alone, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety.” ~Psalms 4:8

A while back, the Prairie Post ran an article titled, “If quality sleep is a challenge … the Morris County Hospital may have a solution.” This article caught my eye because Keen went through the St. Francis Sleep Disorder Clinic about 15 years ago. Since Keen and I are on our way to Colorado for a week of hiking, biking and yes, some much needed rest, I thought I would share a copy of a speech I once gave about our experience titled, “Journey to a Good Night’s Sleep.”

“Laugh and the world laughs with you. Snore and you sleep alone.”
~Anthony Burgess

For the first 12 years of my married life I slept with a snorer – and a loud one at that. I didn’t like it much, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it, so I learned to adjust. That is, until 1989.

1989 was the year our fourth child, Kirk was born. Kirk had digestive problems that went undiagnosed until he was 8 ½ months old when we finally learned that he was allergic to milk. But up until that point, he cried frequently during the day and didn’t sleep through the night. Plus, I had three other children to take care of.

“People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one.” ~Leo J. Burke

Between Kirk’s crying and Keen’s snoring, I was pretty much in a constant state of sleep deprivation. Eventually I became so desperate for some relief that I asked my dear husband if he would please sleep on the couch so I could try to get some rest.

Fortunately, that arrangement didn’t last long because for Christmas that year my father gave us a video camera. That wonderful new gadget gave me the tool I needed to prove once and for all that my husband’s snoring really did sound like a chain saw! But as I was videotaping him one day during a nap, I observed something else. Keen didn’t just snore – he actually stopped breathing during his sleep – for what seemed like an eternity. This interruption in his breathing would be followed by a loud gasp for air before the snoring resumed and the cycle repeated itself.

I had always been concerned about the effect his snoring had on my life, but then I became worried about the effect it might be having on his life. So I contacted the Sleep Disorder Center at St. Francis and they recommended that we make an appointment with a specialist who could refer Keen to the clinic for a sleep study and evaluation.

The evaluation process involved Keen spending the night at the sleep clinic while being hooked up to all kinds of electrodes that monitored every facet of his sleep. It didn’t take very long at all for them to diagnosis Keen with an ailment known as obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.

The Greek word “apnea” literally means “without breath.” This syndrome is caused by a blockage of the airway which occurs when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep. When we’re asleep, our muscles relax more than they do during waking hours and in some people, this relaxation lets the airway in the back of the throat become too narrow, thus interfering with breathing. Some other causes of sleep apnea are being overweight, having a smaller-than-normal jaw, an overbite or enlarged tonsils. The end result of obstructive sleep apnea is excessive daytime sleepiness which is caused by the fact that the individual is literally struggling to breathe all night long.

In Keen’s case, he stopped breathing up to 400 times a night for up to 60 seconds per episode. At that rate, he was actually not breathing more than he was breathing.

After observing Keen for a couple of hours, the technologist at the sleep center decided to equip him with a breathing machine known as a CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure. This device forces pressurized air back into the patient’s lungs through a mask that fits securely over the nose.

I would be remiss not to reiterate the significant and potentially life-threatening consequences of untreated OSA. In addition to the dangers associated with daytime sleepiness such as job impairment and motor vehicle crashes, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, memory problems and headaches. But the most dangerous aspect of sleep apnea is the increased risk of heart failure, heart attack or stroke.

According to David Miller of the St. Francis Sleep Disorder Center, at least 30% of all heart attacks are related to sleep apnea and not to heart disease. Put in simple terms, a heart attack is oxygen starvation of the heart muscles. During episodes of sleep apnea, the blood oxygen level drops dangerously low and over time, this oxygen deprivation takes a serious toll on the heart as well as other vital organs.

The good news is that the CPAP machine works! In our experience, it’s made all the difference in the world – not only for Keen’s quality of sleep, but also for mine. Now Keen wakes up feeling rejuvenated and ready to face the challenges of the day. As for me, I’ve grown accustomed to the soothing hum of the CPAP machine and no longer need to ask my husband to sleep on the couch so I can get a good night’s sleep.

The bottom line is this: snoring is no laughing matter. So if someone you love snores, please encourage them to see their health care professional. Not only could it improve your life – it could save theirs.

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book.”
~Irish Proverb