What it's like to have sleep apnea at 28 years old
Your throat basically collapses in your sleep.
"I gasp and hold my breath
These needs have changed so deep
To face you all and say
I've been awake forever."
-Chevelle, "Sleep Apnea"
They're not wrong. My favorite rock band sings about "eyes scarred from sleep apnea," and I never knew that it was the true reason why I had bags under my eyes. More bags than a shopaholic on Rodeo Drive. Every day, I would wake up and wonder what went wrong while I caught my Z's.
And I never knew.
That is, until I got a significant other.
Then it became REALLY apparent.
"You sound like you're dying," he'd wake me in the middle of my couch slumber to tell me. Even if it was 3AM (he's on the third shift) he would beg me to crawl into bed and stop interrupting his precious anime shows.
I would grumble and sometimes refuse; other times, I would despise him until I cleared the stairs leading to the second floor, and I'd welcome the heavenly bliss of my comfy bed and pillow.
The problem was that even when I got 8 or 9 or even 10 hours of sleep, I would feel tired. I'd need coffee. I would be good to start the day, but slowly, at 2PM, I would start to "hit the wall," which I thought was normal. And by hitting the wall, I mean it was the equivalent of the Kool-Aid man jumping through brick. I would start to doze off at work, while driving, while reading, while watching TV, during movies, wherever I was. And the worst part was, that eventually, this wouldn't just occur at 2PM. It would happen regularly. I'd struggle to stay awake at some point nearly every day.
Some days, I'd take a nap.
Some days, I'd take two.
And I was only 28.
The keyword here—okay, number—is not 28. In fact, it's 250. That's how much I weigh, and I put on an extravagant amount of weight within the last 3 years. I'm talking we went from 175 to 250. That's 75 pounds. That's the kind of poundage where you wake up, take a look in the mirror, and you realize you have bags...under your CHIN.
The reason 250 is important? Because sleep apnea can be caused by weight gain. And I'm thinking that this is where it originated from. Sleep apnea is when your throat muscles relax a little too much while you're sleeping. It causes gasps for air, super loud snoring (sorry, boyfriend), and you can even stop breathing during it. Forever.
My mom is a super snorer, so I figured I'd get checked in case it was genetic. Plus, my boyfriend said that my breathing was labored and I would snore and choke myself awake, just to fall asleep and do it all over again in a short amount of time.
After going to the doctor, she ordered a sleep study. The sleep study (consisting of a couple of small hoses, gadgets, and Velcro belts) confirmed that I did indeed have obstructive sleep apnea, and I would stop breathing 15 times per HOUR.
While that number seems pretty wild, it is actually only considered moderate obstructive sleep apnea. Just think of all the people who have it severely.
Usually, sleep apnea is found in middle-aged and older people. It's not common to be present in 28-year-olds. But the ever-increasing circumference of my neck actually helped me realize that I need to do something about it, and I need to improve my health in general.
Aside from falling asleep at weird times and places.
To cure sleep apnea, you get a CPAP machine. It forces air into your airways when you stop breathing, so you can continuously breathe during the night like a normal person.
It was really odd when I got my CPAP. I received instructions to watch a video from my doctor, and essentially, the video said: "Your life is going to go from being in black-and-white to technicolor once you've gotten used to your CPAP!" and "Your love life is going to be so much better after this!"
Truly, there was a ton of talk about how my love life was going to improve. The video also addressed certain concerns and fears that "before bed activities" would not happen due to the CPAP's unsightly appearance. They reassured those with sleep apnea that sexy time would indeed be an option--the key would be to simply wait to put on your breathing mask until after pre-bed activities had concluded.
Yup. The demographic for sleep apnea is older adults, and this was still a fear that had to be addressed.
My CPAP machine was designed with flowers and came in a purple scheme labeled "for her." It surprisingly added an element of relaxation to the whole ordeal. My breathing mask resembled that of Bane, a Batman villain, and it covered my mouth and nose at the same time. Unfortunately, I felt a little claustrophobic with this mask on, and I'd take it off during the night in my sleep, without even knowing it.
And, for your insurance company to pay for the machine, you have to sleep for 4 hours each night, 80% of the time. Which should be easy—if you're not feeling constricted by your Bane mask.
I consulted another doctor that help set up the machine, and thankfully, we were able to switch to nasal pillows, which are pads that rest on the nostrils only. When I'd breathe through my mouth, a blast of air would shoot up my nose. I'd silently thank the blast of air and force myself to breathe through a stuffy nose, until I drifted off into dreamland.
"But what about being awake, Lisa? This sleep story is great and informative and all, but we want to know if it truly is like living your life in technicolor." -You
I still like to sleep for 8 hours. When I wake up, I feel like I don't need coffee, and I don't even think about drinking any most of the day! I don't mean to be one of those people who are holier-than-thou because I don't drink coffee. Don't get me wrong. I sure do. But I only feel like I need it when I get around 5 hours of sleep with the machine or less. I can last a whole day on 5 hours without napping. Not that it should be a goal, but it's progress in my eyes.
Speaking of my eyes, my under-eyes have chopped up their credit cards and reclaimed their youth. No more heavy bags here. I'm actually proud of the pictures that I take now because there aren't unsightly lines under my eyes. And that, for me—a person diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety—is a huge accomplishment.
I do feel more energetic, more awake, more alert, and more alive since using my CPAP machine. I'm no longer like an old phone with a quick-to-die battery. I'm the newest Google Pixel with the best camera in the game. I've got time for exercise, for working, for relaxation, for cooking, for cleaning, and for playing with my pets that I didn't have before. And, of course, this is supplemented with antidepressants, so I can't speak for everyone who uses the CPAP machine. But I just wanted to let you know that if you do have sleep apnea (or you snore like a lawn mower) that you have a chance to take your life back.
All in all, I'd say I feel less like I'm 80 years old and more like I'm 28. And that's the way it should be.
What a dream.