Around 2006, I started having dreadful nightmares in which I was being suffocated, and that’s when I first realized something was wrong with my sleep. I would startle awake and sit up straight while gasping for air, like a horror movie monster.
Stranger still, my 86-pound chocolate Labrador, Gracie, began to wake me up several times each night, at least once every hour or more. She would approach the bed and prick my face or arm with her icy, damp nose. A pretty big dog would be pounced on me in the middle of the night if she were to occasionally jump up on the bed and hover over me. I would get up and take her outside because I reasoned that perhaps, as she got older, her bladder wouldn’t hold as well. However, she would frequently turn around and enter the house after we arrived. I was always worn out, and Gracie was too. My snoring was getting worse at the same time. My husband and kids began to gripe about it. Family would remind me that I should go to the doctor about my snoring even though I was unaware that it was happening.
A false step, then an answer
Even though I was still unsure of what was wrong with my dog, I eventually told my doctor about how loud I was snoring, and she advised that I get a sleep study. When I visited the sleep lab, I was attached to so many wires that it was cumbersome and uncomfortable. Lights out, they said to me around 7:30 p.m. Sleep some more. I was not that kind of a sleeper, which was the issue. Reading a book or watching TV helped me unwind. I didn’t sleep, but they still thought my test results were normal.
Bedtime became a really dark time for me over the course of the following few years. Because I knew I would either have nightmares or Gracie would wake me up, I started to stay up late. After taking my first sleep test for about two years, I finally told my doctor that I didn’t believe the results were accurate because I hadn’t actually dozed off. She informed me that I could take a test at home. She placed an order for a test for me, and the results showed that I had sleep apnea. When I returned to the sleep lab, they let me watch a little TV until it was time for lights-out this time.
That night, I slept much better, and after I dozed off, they put a mask on me. My sleep apnea was discovered to be moderate to severe during that second test, and I was fitted for a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that same evening. The most wonderful thing occurred when I began wearing the mask to bed at night: Gracie stopped waking me up. I came to understand that she had been keeping an eye on me; whenever she noticed that I wasn’t breathing, she would poke me to get me to wake up and resume breathing. All along, she was working to save me.
Finally getting a good night’s sleep
My life completely changed once I received a sleep apnea diagnosis and started using the CPAP mask. I’ve stopped having nightmares, and I’ve started going to bed earlier because I enjoy being in the bedroom while I get some much-needed rest.
Anyone getting a sleep study should let the doctor know in advance if they have any special requirements or nighttime routines. To achieve the desired outcomes, you should feel as comfortable as you can. Pay attention to your dog and other pets as well. When I finally paid attention to what Gracie was trying to tell me, both of our lives drastically improved.
Are you at risk for sleep apnea?
According to estimates, 17% of women and 22% of men suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. The majority of our muscles relax while we sleep, according to Carlos Nunez, MD, ResMed’s chief medical officer. “During sleep, the muscles in your throat can relax, causing the tissues to collapse and obstruct the passage of air.” You might stop breathing as a result, up to 50 times per hour. According to Dr. Nunez, “the brain senses that you’re suffocating and forces you to gasp for breath.” Obesity, advanced age, a large neck circumference, enlarged tonsils or a small throat, and regular alcohol or sedative use are some of the main risk factors for OSA. Untreated OSA can increase your risk of dementia, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes in addition to leaving you exhausted.
The most popular form of treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which uses a mask that you wear to keep your airways open while you sleep. Additionally helpful options include oral appliances and surgery in some circumstances.
Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Gasping during sleep
- Daytime exhaustion
- Difficulty paying attention while awake