Sleep apnea can be a life ruining condition. If it goes untreated, there are short term and long term problems. This is something most people have heard before, but can easily brush off. But I am going to share with you my journey. How my life was before CPAP, how I was diagnosed, and how my life is going after CPAP. Maybe this is something that you can relate to. Maybe this will encourage you to talk to your doctor, get tested, and if needed, use PAP therapy treatment to better your life
So here is my CPAP story. What I was going though, why I got tested, and how it went when I got my CPAP.
Life Before CPAP
When it started
So I am not the typical sleep apnea patient. When I first started to realize my sleep problem was not normal, I was 29 years old. In the beginning, I started off not being of clear mind in the morning. I would have to drag myself out of bed and rush to work at the last minute. Every morning I craved an extra 5 more minutes of sleep.
So far, nothing to outrageous. These were problems a lot of people were dealing with. But next thing I noticed, after being a proud night owl, I was going to bed much earlier. I was starting to go to bed around 10:30 pm and sleeping until 8 am. And I was still groggy the next day and kept craving to take a nap mid day. I stopped going out with my friends, even on weekends.
This seemed unusual to me, and I actually had my yearly checkup with my doctor. I shared my concerns with my doctor. This doctor always seemed fine to me, she always had a holistic approach at the start, and that worked for me. Because of my age, she recommended exercise.
This made sense to me. I was nearing 30 and I was getting out of shape. I wasn’t obese, I was a 5 10 male and about 200 lbs. But lack of exercise would explain my poor sleep. So I did start doing light exercising again. Unfortunately, this made me more tired and it backfired on me.
Things took a bit of a nosedive, because I ended up getting fired from my job. It was not related to my sleep problems, thankfully. But my new lifestyle didn’t help my sleep problems. I patched together several full time jobs, which gave me a crazy work schedule. I would wake up at 4 am to help out on a morning radio show, I would leave the show at 9 am to do some real estate work, and in the evening I would work at business events.
Although my sleep was getting worse, I blamed it all on my crazy work schedule. Although I enjoyed what I was doing, I knew I would need a normal job with a normal schedule.
When I knew there might be something medically wrong
So I did end up getting a normal job with a normal schedule after 6 months of piecing work together. The pay was decent and the benefits were great. I tried to adjust to the normal schedule and I really wasn’t noticing a difference. But the fresh start did give me a push to get out and start having a social life and get back to dating.
Being Single and almost 30 was not for me. Especially when I was just sitting at home to go to bed early. I met a beautiful girl online. We clicked right away. But I started to notice that I was always wanting to leave our dates by 11 pm. Nothing to do with her, I was just tired. And in a way, this was making me guilty.
To make matter worse, although I was thriving at my new job, I noticed I had really bad anxiety in the morning. I would wake up really anxious, almost like I was minutes away from a panic attack. But like clockwork, I noticed the anxiety was calming down around 1:00 or 2:00 and I would feel fine the rest of the day.
Another thing that I noticed was that I was starting to wake up in the middle of the night, a lot. It was very easy for me to fall asleep, but very hard for me to stay asleep. I would fall asleep, and I would have these VERY vivid dreams. They weren’t nightmares, just dreams that felt very real. I would always wake up from these dreams. I would then check the time, and it would be like 11:30 pm and shrugged it off.
I would fall asleep right away, and the vivid dreams would start again, usually something different. It would be like these dreams would go on for hours. Then I would wake up, and check the time. The time would be like 11:40 pm….. Was I only asleep for 10 minutes? The dreams felt like hours. And going through a whole night of barely sleeping like this, I knew this was part of the problem. Was it stress? that made the most sense to me. But what came next is what pointed me to anther direction.
That beautiful girl I was dating? Lucky me, she was very understanding and put up with me. Even though my lack of sleep made me cranky, she saw past that and saw the real me. We reached that point where we started spending nights together. This was a new experience for me, with this being the first person I was sleeping with since the sleep problem escaladed.
As how it was before, I fell asleep and the vivid dreams would start up. But this time, rather than waking up and checking the time, it was different. I was woken up by my girlfriend who was concerned. She said I had been snoring, but she was worried when I started to make a choking sound. I assured her I was ok and we went back to sleep.
It didn’t take long for her to have to wake me up again. This time she said I was still choking but then I stopped breathing and it really scared her. This surprised me, because I don’t recall snoring, choking, or the stop breathing. It seems like something I would remember, but I could recall were the vivid dreams. But I knew she wasn’t lying to me, she wouldn’t do that.
At this moment, I knew it was serious, and I needed to look into it more.
I tried to make an appointment with my doctor, but she was pretty well booked for months. This was urgent for me, because I did not want to lose this girl and this was for sure to be a problem. I picked a new doctor that was close by and was able to see me the following week. He was a family medicine doctor, not a specialist.
Although it was a routine physical, I shared with him my concerns. I mostly talked about the choking that my girlfriend noticed, as well as things I did like the anxiety and always feeling fatigue. Rather than tell me to just exercise, He said he was ordering a sleep test. He said with my age (being 30 now) it wasn’t likely that I had a sleep disorder. But he said he wanted to check just because of my symptoms.
He also told me that if my results are negative, not to worry because there were other things he can look for so I can start feeling better. The test was an at home sleep test. It was a pocket device with tubes and wires. I set it up, and used it that night without any trouble. I had doubts I did it correctly.
I brought it to the sleep lab in person. The tech said the doctor would get the results in about 3 days, and the doctor’s office would call me with the results. The tech also said there was plenty of data in the machine and I did use it correctly. That was a relief.
The VERY next day, get a call from the sleep lab. They had my results. The lab tech said my results came to be a 46 AHI and had obstructive sleep apnea. I had no idea what that meant, but I would later find out that an AHI less than 5 was normal and anything over 30 was considered severe. The sleep tech wanted me to have a titration study done immediately to see if I would qualify for PAP therapy.
Titration and Road to CPAP
The titration test had to be done in a facility in my case. I would spend overnight in a sleep lab where they would connect me to a CPAP. Throughout the night, a tech would monitor me on camera and change settings to see if it made my sleep apnea worse, better, or the same. When I got to the lab, there was a group of maybe 6 other patients. I was the only one that looked to be under 65.
I was in a room by myself with all the machine stuff hooked up to me. The staff was nice. I remember I didn’t bother watching TV and went to bed right away and fell asleep. I had vivid dreams as I usually did, but I wasn’t waking up like I usually would. I know I did, but it wasn’t as often.
There was really only one time that night I REALLY remember waking up. Reason I remembered was because when I woke up, there were about 3 techs surrounding me frantically checking on me. Apparently they told me that I stopped breathing for a couple seconds and was gasping for air. I don’t remember this at all, but it sure scared them. I guess that whatever setting they had me on at that moment, they knew that wasn’t right for me.
I woke up the next morning. I was still sleepy, but I could feel a new world awaiting me. I took the day off of work, because I didn’t know what to expect. I went straight home…. and yes, I went to sleep.
CPAP (or BIPAP) To The Rescue
The lab decided that I did qualify for PAP therapy treatment. They originally wanted my to have a normal CPAP, but my doctor changed the order to a BIPAP machine. My insurance covered 100% of DME thankfully.
I had the option to pick up the BIPAP in person and a sleep tech walked me through how to use it. It was a bit complicated when she explained it. Especially the cleaning part. There were so many parts to it I wasn’t sure I could remember it all.
But I took that home ready to use it my first night. I have to say, I had an amazing sleep. I woke up the next day feeling more refreshed than I have felt in a long time. One of the negative things I had the first day was this post nasal drip. I must have blown my nose a 100 times in the first couple hours of waking up. Thankfully, this really only happened the first night.
Even though I felt refreshed, I felt far from perfect. I still was having anxiety, I did feel more fatigue compared to others, and I still wanted to go to bed early and sleep late. And although I loved my BIPAP, things with it were not perfect. I noticed most mornings I would wake up and see that I turned the machine off in the middle of the night and took my mask off.
I had no memory of doing that, but from my machine data, I only was using the BIPAP about 3 hours a night. But I wanted to get better. I wanted to have a life again. So despite me taking the mask off in the middle of the night, I kept at it. I tried different things like using the CPAP while reading so my body could get used to it.
But persistence I think was the best thing. Just not giving up and keep trying. Eventually I was able to use the BIPAP machine all night. After 3 months, I noticed my mood had gotten better. I was happier and enjoyed doing things again. The anxiety I felt reached more normal levels and was not a day to day struggle anymore. I didn’t have the need to take any naps during the day. I was able to wake up and tackle the mornings. I got to stay up late on the weekends like a normal young person.
And that girl I was dating? I proposed to her a few years later. She really was the person that made it “click” for me that I really needed to talk to a doctor about it. And my doctor taking things seriously, and the PAP therapy following up as my treatment, I live a better life now.
Everyone has a different body, lifestyle, and situation. I share this, not because I believe anyone with my symptoms can have the same experience. But lack of sleep can really ruin a life at any age. If you are struggling with sleep for whatever reason, I urge you to talk to your doctor. Go over options about testing to get some clear answers. And if test results come out negative, keep looking with your doctor. Getting a good night’s sleep is critical.