I suffer from Sleep Apnea. Mine is known as SOSA (Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea).
Sleep Apnea is where you stop breathing during sleep, multiple times and for extended periods. In itself it is not dangerous, as you will always start breathing again. However, the knock-on effect could be heart failure. Additionally, because your sleep is affected, limiting REM sleep, that deprivation can cause you to fall asleep at inopportune times. This is most dangerous when operating machinery and when driving.
In all cases of sleep apnea you should consult a doctor or consultant to get help.
What are the symptoms?
Well, before getting treatment to alleviate the breathing problems, the first sign that doctors picked up on was inverted eyelids.
Sleep Apnea is caused by muscle relaxation in the neck, causing you to stop breathing. This is more acute if you sleep on your back or on your side. Many sufferers, like me, would sleep on their front to allow them to breathe easier when asleep.
Sleeping on one’s front can cause your face to be buried in the pillow, causing your eyelids to rub on it, and often causes inverted eyelids.
When the eye consultant suspected that I had sleep apnea he asked my wife if I stopped breathing when asleep. Her answer of “Yes, I lie awake sometimes, waiting for him to start breathing” confirmed his suspicions.
Stopping Breathing When Asleep
Now, I was not aware at this time that I stopped breathing when asleep. My wife had not told me.
However, I was aware that, if I started to snooze, I would often wake myself up with a snort.
I was also aware that I slept better when I slept on my front.
Now that the consultant had indicated that I probably suffered from sleep apnea all of the sleep problems fell into place.
Often times I could hear myself snoring, in that strange time between sleep and wakefullness. Again the consultant said that this was often a sign that sleep apnea could be diagnosed.
Many people snore due to nasal blockages and are not sleep apneic. Their nasal passages contract or they create excess mucus in the nasal cavity. I, unfortunately, suffer from this too, so it could have affected a proper diagnosis.
Falling Asleep (not at bedtime)
With Sleep Apnea one of the main symptoms is the tendency to fall asleep when inactive. This is not the same as Narcolepsy.
In my case I could fall asleep at any time when relaxing, inactive or just travelling by train or other means of transport. And this was not just the kind of falling asleep because of tiredness from work. This was much more profound.
The best way I can describe the moments before sleep is as if a blackout curtain gradually descends over the eyes. You can fight it somewhat, but usually it overtakes you.
Treatment of Inverted Eyelids
After the diagnosis of inverted eyelids it was decided that a small operation would alleviate the problem.
This entailed having a few small stitches inserted at the side of the eyes to pin the top lids to the bottom lids. This was done under local anestetic and was quite disconcerting during the operation. Having a needle inserted that close to the eyeball was a little scary.
After the operation for inverted eyelids I underwent an overnight sleep clinic. My sleep patterns were monitored. The outcome was somewhat shocking. They found that I was stopping breathing up to 60 times an hour and that the length of time I stopped breathing was up to 30 seconds each time.
No wonder I felt tired all the time.
It is not just the fact that you stop breathing for several seconds and often. It is the impact it has. Each time you stop breathing you wake up slightly. This has the effect of limiting your REM sleep. The sleep period where your brain processes the information of the day and puts it into context. The period of rapid eye movement and dreaming.
I had sleep apnea!
Initial Treatment of Sleep Apnea
My diagnosis came when the medical world was just coming to grips with sleep apnea. Back then the treatment was surgery.
I had three operations in one to try to curtail the symptoms.
- Rhinoplasty, where a hole is drilled into the grissly plate between the nostrils. This did not prove to be painful, after completion, in my recollection. See Rhinoplasty: Reasons, Procedure and Recovery (healthline.com)
- Removal of the uvula, that little dangly thing at the entrance to the throat, that is supposed to stop random items entering without swallowing. This again did not prove to be painful after the event. See Uvula Removal: Purpose, Surgery, Side Effects, and Recovery Time (healthline.com)
- Lasering of the roof of my mouth and towards the entrance to my throat. Boy, after 24 hours, when the anesthetic wore off, was this painful. And it lasted for about a week. The last two procedures are known as Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. See Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty – Wikipedia
Upshot of it all – did not make one iota of a difference to my condition.
Second Sleep Clinic
About 2 years later, after the first treatment had not been successful, I was called in for a second sleep clinic. Things had moved on in that time.
This time the sleep clinic included the use of a CPAP machine.
This is for forcing a constant pressure of air into the breathing system, which keeps the passageways open. Over the sleep period you are first monitored at a low pressure and the times and duration of the stop-breathing episodes is monitored.
Then the machine is ramped up and monitoring starts again. A number of increases takes place until the end of the session. An optimum air pressure is calculated to give the minimum of episodes.
Delivery of CPAP machine
In the UK we are extremely fortunate that we have the NHS.
I received a CPAP machine to use at home – first a ResMed machine and now a DeVilBiss machine. Each year I take it, at an appointed time and date, to have it serviced and for the recorded information to be analysed.
Invariably a new mask is supplied and occasionally a new breathing tube. This does not cost me anything other than the National Insurance contributions I have made over the years.
Does a CPAP Machine Help?
I use the machine every time I lay down on bed. When the air is blowing into the mask it does make a noise as it exits. This could be a distraction for sleep, more for your sleeping partner than yourself perhaps (I am now single so the problem does not arise).
Apart from this I can honestly say that it has transformed my life. Sure I still get tired, but this is now fatigue tiredness, not sleep apnea tiredness.
If you suffer from sleep apnea you will know what I’m talking about.
You and Your Sleep (or lack thereof)
If you suffer from any of the following:
- Snorting and waking yourself when you drop off to sleep in the chair or on the settee.
- You seem very tired even though you’ve had a good 7 to 10 hours sleep.
- You are constantly tired.
- You are overweight, especially around the neck area (anything over a UK size 16)
- You tend to sleep on your front.
- You have developed inverted eyelids.
- That blackout curtain descends upon your eyes,
- and especially if your sleep partner says you stop breathing when you are asleep,
go to your doctor and ask to be referred for a sleep clinic to be performed.
Sleep Apnea can be deadly, as it can have an impact on your heart. And it can be deadly, not just for you, if you fall asleep whilst driving – this can and does happen to some.