Friday, October 19, 2012
I've been using a CPAP machine for two months now. This week, I had a follow up with the CPAP tech who confirmed what I already knew. My sleep apnea events have dropped from dozens per night to two. According to the card, I'm getting just shy of seven hours of sleep per night on average. I feel a lot better these days. I no longer worry about falling asleep when I'm driving home from work, and when I get home I'm still a functioning human being who doesn't have to immediately go to bed for an hour long nap. The CPAP might even be making me look better, as using it corresponds with losing over twenty pounds of weight. My dietary changes are probably responsible for most of the weight loss, but the CPAP keeps me rested, which means I can exercise routinely, and I no longer need a full liter of Mountain Dew to keep me awake and alert during my work day. In fact, I've cut almost all caffeine from my diet, save for occasionally ordering unsweetened tea when I'm eating out.
Before starting the CPAP, I had a lot of questions. I thought I'd post a bit of a self Q&A in case other people had the same questions.
Q: Do people really need this? If the human body was so badly designed that it strangles itself while sleeping, how did we survive as a species?
A: Just another argument against intelligent design. I've known for over ten years that I stopped breathing sometimes in my sleep. Pretending that this was normal and acceptable is easily one of the top three bone-headed thoughts ever to lodge in my mind.
Q: Does the CPAP actually fix the problem? Or is it just treating the symptoms? Can't you fix your breathing by exercising, losing weight, and changing your sleeping positions?
A: Well, sure, it is just treating symptoms. But, while being heavy does contribute to the problem, I know people who are a long way from obese who also need the machine. And, I've tried sleeping in every position you can imagine without positive results. The long and short of it is, the machine actually works.
Q: What if there's a power outage when you have the mask on? Won't you suffocate?
A: I was really worried about this before I tried a mask on. If you google CPAP problems, you find people talking about feeling as if they are suffocating. I honestly have no idea what they are talking about. The mask has holes in it to let you exhaled air escape. If the machine's off, these holes also let air in. Breathing with the mask on and power off isn't a problem at all.
Q: Maybe CPAP will help some people, but I have terrible allergies and can barely breathe through my nose half the time.
A: That's a statement, not a question. But, I really am someone who had difficulty breathing through his nose at night. But, with the CPAP, you're breathing filtered air all night. Most mornings, I wake up and my nostrils are completely open. Before the mask, I always started each morning with a ten minute sneezing session. Big improvement.
Q: Is it hard to fall asleep with the machine blowing air in your face?
Not at all. You really don't feel air blowing on you. I usually fall asleep in under five minutes. It's pretty awesome.
Q: Won't the mask make my face break out? Or leave lines in my face?
A: So far, I haven't had this problem, though I do wake up feeling like my face is oily where the mask sits. I also can see the lines of the mask for twenty minutes after I wake up. But, so far, these things really don't seem to be a problem.
Q: Then what does seem to be a problem?
A: I sleep so soundly that I don't toss and turn, and when I sleep on my sides, sometimes my arm will be numb when I wake. I also can sleep on my back for the first time in decades, but when I do so, I sometimes wake with back aches. Despite the machine having a humidifier, I do often have dry mouth in the mornings, so bad even my throat will fill dry. Luckily, a few swigs of seltzer water in the morning fixes this. Finally, I also wake up with dry eyes. I think air leaks ever so slightly from around my nose and blows into my eyes. I've tightened my mask as much as I find comfortable without fixing the problem. For now, I muddle on. Usually the dryness is gone a few minutes after waking. Rarely does it persist beyond my morning shower. When it does, there's always eyedrops.
All in all, I really regret I didn't get on the CPAP ten years ago. I think of all the hours wasted because I woke up each morning feeling like a zombie. In just two months I'm feeling healthier and have reclaimed several extra productive hours in each day. I know most people want to die in their sleep. But, it's just stupid to let your sleeping body try to kill you night after night.