Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sleep disorders are tiring

Whoever said, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," probably was not a late night television show host.

It is more likely those words of wisdom were spoken by a sleep specialist. Such an expert would contend that sound slumber may be better medicine than laughter for people seeking solace for their souls. After all, scientific researchers have discovered restful sleep reduces stress, boosts the body's immune system and promotes mental alertness.

Unfortunately, I rarely get the luxury of a good night's sleep. OK. It's true. I stay up watching funny late show hosts. But, that is not the reason for my lack of restful slumber.

I am one of scores of people who suffer with sleep apnea, a malady that causes us to stop breathing while we snooze. We unconsciously awaken several times an hour to kick-start our breathing. As a result, our sleep cycles rarely reach the deep dreamy stage.

When we are awake, our lives can be depressing nightmares. Apnea-stricken sleepers often arise in the morning feeling as dead as the corpses we disturbed during the night with our serious snoring and snorting.

"I slept 13 hours last night," I announced one morning before being diagnosed. "But, I feel so tired. And, I don't think I'm nocturnal because I'm not wise enough to be an owl."

My companion made it obvious he believes he is the one who truly travails.

"I'm tired too," my mate muttered. "I woke up at 3 o'clock this morning and couldn't get back to sleep."

"Did you have a nightmare?"

"No, you were snoring really loud. I think you awakened all the deceased this side of the Mississippi River."

I blamed my buddy's grumpy demeanor to the fact he had not finished his cup of coffee. But as I ate breakfast and he slurped his brew, he expressed the fact he was worried. He was convinced I had a sleep disorder. At least I think that is what he did, but I'm not sure as I uncontrollably began snoozing and spilling cereal on the cat.

The slosh of cold milk in my lap awakened me momentarily. But as I spent the morning plucking letter-shaped oats from the feline's ears, my eyes automatically closed to catch some more Zs. This routine went on for hours. At least I think it did, but I'm not sure as I kept impersonating Rip Van Winkle.

Finally, I rejoined the living.

"I'm so tired!" I exclaimed. "I think it's starting to affect my memory."

"Oh yeah, what did you forget this time?"

"I don't remember dying my hair red."

"Oh, that happened about an hour ago when you were eating lunch," my buddy explained. "You nodded off, and your head plopped into the spaghetti sauce."

Grabbing the telephone book, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He made arrangements for me to spend the night in a sleep clinic. At least I think that's what he did, but I'm not sure as I irresistibly sawed some more logs.

A week later, I moseyed into the offices of Dr. Sandman and Associates where sleep technicians plastered a clump of electrodes to my head with white Silly Putty. The next morning, Dr. Not-So-McDreamy declared his diagnosis. I indeed had sleep apnea.

He said there was no cure, but the disorder could be treated. All I had to do was use a Continuous Positive Air Passage machine, affectionately known as a CPAP. It would involve sleeping while wearing a mask attached to a hose that constantly blows air into my nostrils. Supposedly, this contraption resembling an elephant trunk would result in restful sleep.

That was the good news. The bad news was the doctor got dramatic. As he explained the mask concept, he entertained himself by singing an off-key rendition of "Masquerade" from "Phantom of the Opera". That prompted me to question his professionalism.

"Doc, let's go back to the days when we were in fourth grade," I said sarcastically. "Let's pretend we're learning about sets and subsets. Which of the following does not belong to our set – a nightgown, a nightlight, a nightcap or a night mask?"

He didn't fall for it.

"Trust me," he said. "A night mask is not a nightmare."

"That's easy for you to say," I remarked. "How do I know you're not in cahoots with the CPAP salesman?"

"Again, a night mask is not a nightmare. A night mare is a horse after day light."

After hearing his lousy impersonation of a late night TV show host, I begged the doctor to revert to singing show tunes. I also agreed to go home with a CPAP, although I later made excuses for why I should not wear the darn mask.

"I don't want to wear this stupid thing," I told my roommate as we got ready for bed that evening.

"It can't be that bad," he said. "A lot of people wear CPAP masks. I don't hear them complaining."

"That's because you don't know those people."

"Just put on your mask and give it a rest!"

"I'm telling you, the only night I want to wear a mask is on Halloween."

But, I donned the dumb thing and proceeded with my regular bedtime routine. As expected, the CPAP was distracting.

"If I put this on when I crawl into bed, I can't read until I drop off to sleep," I whined.

"Why?" my inquisitive pal asked.

"In order to get comfortable, I have to position the air hose above my nose and over the center of my forehead. That keeps my eyes from seeing together. I might as well have one eye on the right side of my head and the other eye beside my left temple."

"You're exaggerating," he contended.

"I am not. Why do you think you never see a goldfish reading a novel?"

I continued stressing my point.

"I've got to figure out a way to sleep without the air hose getting in the way."

"It will be OK," my companion said supportively. "The hose will move with you when you change positions."

"As much as I toss and turn, I'm afraid it's going to get wrapped around my neck and choke me."

"That's ridiculous," he countered.

"Well, you're going to appear ridiculous when you have to explain to the coroner why I was strangled by King Kong's umbilical cord."

While the air pressure hurt my ears, I eventually dropped off to sleep. The next morning, my comrade said the CPAP seemed to result in better slumber. Since the machine kept me from snoring, he slept superbly.