Several months ago when my allergy adventure began (more on that swollen-eyed-during-my-final-teaching-evaluation fiasco in a future post), I went to see an allergist who is also a sleep specialist.
Being a decent doctor who sees me as a complex human being, he took a full history, asking me about every health condition and ache and pain and eventually, we got to sleep. After several questions he stopped typing and paused,
“You sleep like you’re 70,” he said. I stared at him, “yeah, I know.”
He thought for a moment and then replied, “this is going to kill you, sleep is important. You know what, today we will discuss your allergies, in your follow up we’ll talk about sleep. You have two weeks to read articles, do your research, and think about whether you want to do a sleep study.”
Look, I’m a well-educated person who believes in holistic medicine and treating your body like a temple. I eat pretty well, I exercise five days a week, I leave myself 8-10 hours for sleep every night. I know sleep is important, but reading the research scared the absolute sh*t out of me.
Waking up 4-5 times a night. Grinding teeth and clenching hard enough that my jaw pops all morning. Remembering most of my dreams and waking from vivid nightmares multiple times in a week. Waking up breathless. Sleep walking when stressed. All of this adds up to decades off my life, chronic illness, and too many other scary things to think about.
I have said ‘no’ to too many cocktails and pieces of cake, I have run too many miles, and been through too many hours of therapy to die at 50 because I can’t sleep.
So I went back for my follow up and scheduled a sleep study. As it turns out, sleep studies are super weird.
I arrived in midtown at the same doctors office at 9 pm, you know that magical hour in New York when everyone out is either pissed they aren’t at home or piss drunk, and the empty office buildings feel like horror movies in the making. When I arrived, the tech was there setting up another patient. He brought me into my room which was a consultation room with the couch now pulled out into a bed. He told me to get comfortable and he’d be back to set everything up.
A few minutes later he arrived with two handfuls of long, snaking cords and various other medical equipment. For the next half hour we talked about education policy (because this is my go-to small talk topic) while he glued electrodes to my head, chest, and legs.
Roughly 30 went onto my scalp, leaving gluey goop I wasn’t excited to wash out of my hair the next day. A few went onto my face around the eyes, temples, and jaw. Four went onto my chest and two on each leg. Once applied, the electrodes were connected to their wires and the tech gathered all of the wires together into a bunch over one of my shoulders.
Once hooked up I wanted to take a picture but didn’t have the mobility to make it happen. I imagine I looked something like this:
I’m glad that the tech found the humor in putting a million uncomfortable things on me and then asking me to sleep. As he set up a mic (to catch any snoring), a heart monitor, and placed an oxygen tube in my nose, he reassured me that most people struggle at first to fall asleep but end up getting there. He told me the results we all considered in the context of an uncomfortable night.
I laughed a little to myself after he left. The AC was too high, I was a ball of human and wires and my actual bed was too far away. Sleep seemed impossible.
However, eventually I did fall asleep. It wasn’t restful but most of the time my sleep isn’t so, no big change there.
At 4:45 on the nose, the tech returned to wake me up. I was exhausted and ready to get the wires and glue off of me. He quickly disconnected me and took the wires off. He left the pads from the electrodes and told me I should pull those off myself. His final advice was to take a really long, hot shower to get all the glue out of my hair.
Never have I wished I had a car more. With no express trains in the morning, it took nearly two hours to get home, covered in glue and electrode pads. I was definitely cute and no one stared at me like I was an escaped mental patient….
I got the results back a couple of weeks later. I assume the actual timing is faster than this and depends on the doctors schedule, but I was out of town so I pushed it off. The verdict was hardcore sleep apnea. I stop breathing 16-26 times each hour and am only even getting into deep sleep for an hour or two each night. This explains so many things.
The next step is to order and try out a CPAP machine, which essentially has a mask that keeps a constant stream of air flowing so that I can’t stop breathing. While I’m not stoked about this, I’m interested to see how it feels to get some real sleep, who knows maybe I’m not cynical at all, just tired.
If the CPAP isn’t working for me after trying it for a few weeks, there’s a dental device that opens the airway to try. I’ll keep you posted.
Has anyone out there experienced a sleep study or is considering one? I’m here for any questions, stories, or comments if you’ve got them!
Best of luck