I often wonder why it’s so hard for many people, myself included, to get a good night’s sleep. It seems that it should be one of the easiest and most restorative things that we do, but millions of us have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
I had long ago given up caffeine and alcohol completely, my bedroom was quiet and dark, I quit using the computer and phone an hour before bedtime, and if I wanted to read before falling asleep, I found out that a real book worked better than a Kindle. I followed all the advice I could find in search of that elusive seven and a half to eight hours of restful, deep sleep.
My sleeping problems started when I was in high school. I frequently got up for school, got completely dressed, and even sometimes walked downstairs and outside before I would finally realize that it was still the middle of the night. I was probably sleepwalking, and I remember my dad touching my arm sometimes and trying to get me to go back to bed. I also remember being so tired in school after one of these episodes that I would dash into the restroom between classes and splash cold water on my face.
After a particularly stressful day, I just can’t seem to shift into low gear and my mind is still racing hours after I’ve turned out the light. Other times I fall asleep quickly, only to wake up a couple hours later to use the bathroom and then find it impossible to get back to sleep. Too many nights my light would be on at 3 A.M. as I finally gave up trying to get back to sleep and decided to read instead.
To add insult to an already bad case of insomnia, I was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea. Apparently I averaged sixteen times an hour where I stopped breathing for 10 seconds or longer. I was told that I would have to learn to sleep with a nasal mask on my face that continually blows pressurized air into my nose. Hmmm... Good luck with that, was my first thought.
I believed that using the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine was important for my health. The list of serious problems attributed to untreated sleep apnea includes increased risk of high blood pressure, heart rhythm irregularities, stroke, heart attack, Type 2 diabetes, glaucoma, as well as depression and chronic fatigue. Pretty scary stuff.
The truth of the matter was that in spite of a long history of not getting enough good quality sleep, I really didn’t feel tired or like I needed to nap during the day, even though the sleep study results indicated that I definitely should have felt that way. I did, however, have other health issues on that list, and I was eager to try to remedy them and prevent further problems. I watched all the videos about the benefits of using the CPAP machine every night, and learned that I could soon expect to notice that I felt better during the day, that I’d wake up less frequently to use the bathroom, and could even expect lower blood pressure readings and overall health improvement.
Well. That’s not exactly how it went.
I tried to remember all the instructions I had been given, but I still felt overwhelmed that first night as I tried to assemble the equipment. I finally got the machine hooked up and put the nasal mask on, upside down at first and I felt the pressurized air blowing in my eyes instead of up my nose. That was a good indication that I had done something wrong! I repositioned the mask and stretched out in bed, trying to relax and pretend there wasn’t a big contraption on my head.
Every time I had to get up to use the bathroom, I had to turn the light on so I could see how to put that miserable mask back on, practically guaranteeing that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again. If I tried to turn on my side like I usually sleep, the air would whoosh into my already dry eyes. After three mostly sleepless nights, I was so exhausted that all I could do at 2 in the morning was cry, and I was like a zombie the following day. I had never felt that lousy with my old sleep habits!
If I did happen to doze off, I would awake a short time later choking because my mouth and throat were so parched that I couldn’t even swallow. At that point on the third night, I ripped off the mask and threw it on the floor and decided I’d had enough. I had begun to dread bedtime, even though by then I was very tired. I had been told that I HAD to use the mask 29 out of 31 days or my insurance wouldn’t pay for it any more. There is an SD card in the machine recording my usage, so there was no fudging anything.
In spite of that, I drained the water out of the machine and packed it away for a few weeks. Everyone I talked to about the CPAP machine insisted that you needed time to adjust to it and it would get easier and that you really would begin to sleep better with it after continued use. I looked at the machine skeptically, thought again about all the risks of untreated sleep apnea, and decided that maybe I should try it again.
I woke up choking because of a dry mouth after only an hour, along with having an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach from having swallowed some of the pressurized air. The next night went a bit better as I actually fell asleep for two hours. Sleeping on my back has always been really uncomfortable for me, so I invested in a CPAP pillow, which enabled me to sleep on my side without disturbing the mask. That was a big improvement!
My aim was to try to tolerate using it for a little bit longer each night. One good thing about the newer machines is that they are virtually silent, unlike some of the older ones. Since I’m a light sleeper that was important to me.
I’m sure my fight is far from over. I still have a long way to go before I’ll be able to comfortably sleep with the CPAP machine all night and begin to reap its benefits. It has been frustrating and certainly uncomfortable, but it’s just too scary thinking about the consequences of NOT using it. I’ll have to make ‘One night at a time’ my new mantra, and keep on fighting!