Curing Sleep Apnea
My Sleep Apnea Journey
Back in January of 2013, my wife urged me to get a sleep study done. She would spend several nights, awake, listening to me snore. It wasn't just the snoring that was keeping her awake, it was when I would go silent that disturbed her more than anything. See, that silence meant that I had actually stopped breathing. Some nights, she would go so far as to shake me awake to make sure I was still alive.
So, off the sleep study I went. Like most people who go for a sleep study, you kind of have a cynical approach to it. If you are like me, you have a hard time sleeping anywhere else other than your own bed. How in the world would I be able to actually fall asleep with all of those wires attached to my head? Not only that, but knowing that there are people "watching" you while you sleep seemed kind of creepy. However, to appease my wife, I went through it.
To be completely transparent with you, I didn't think I slept thirty minutes. I even took a sleeping pill prior to the study, and still struggled to fall asleep. However, the sleep specialist informed me that I had, indeed, fallen to sleep for at least six hours during the night. Really? Sure enough, the data agreed and right then and there, it told the story I was dreading to hear; I had sleep apnea! My number of apnea episodes per night was something like 40 times a night. Apparently, ceasing to breathe 40 times a night is kind of bad! I can't remember for how long each episode would last, but you gotta think, if you stop breathing for about 10 seconds, at least twice an hour, brain cells would eventually start dying. Of course, that's my uneducated guess. I deal with computers, not medicine!
So, off to the sleep doctor I go to get my prescription for CPAP therapy. Now, all of this sleep apnea stuff was new to me. Honestly, I had never heard of it before. I just assumed I snored really loud and so the machine would keep me from snoring. Never in my wildest dreams (no pun intended) did I ever imagine how serious sleep apnea is. It can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, even death. Of course we're all eventually going to die, but I kind of like the thought of living to a very ripe old age.
OK, so I'm now fitted for my CPAP machine and mask and I'm thinking this is what solves the problem. I'm a strong willed person, so as much struggle as it was for me to get used to wearing the mask, I wasn't about to let it defeat me. Have I ever been able to get used to wearing the mask? Depends upon your definition of "getting used" to something. I've struggled to wear the mask for almost five years now. Most people are non-compliant with CPAP. I didn't think I had a choice. I figured it was either this or death. While I never heard of sleep apnea before being diagnosed, I did have issues of waking up and gasping for area. I always thought that came from a bad dream, I didn't realize I had actually stopped breathing. So, CPAP therapy, being the gold standard, would be my "cure", right?
Two years ago during my annual doctor's appointment with my sleep doctor, I asked him would I have to stay on CPAP the rest of my life? His answer was, "The only way you can get off of CPAP is by some very invasive surgery". So, I thought the answer at that point was no. I mean, I'm not really one to just jump on the "cut me open" train and see what happens. I figured sleeping with a mask seems a lot easier. However, as time progressed and I started feeling more depressed, I realized that using CPAP therapy was really reducing the quality of life, even though it was also prolonging my life. You see, when you're wearing a CPAP mask that's hooked to this machine via a long hose, you're very limited. You can't roll over and snuggle with your spouse. In fact, rolling over causes the mask to move, which causes you to wake up, which causes you to have to adjust the mask so that you're semi-comfortable again. Sleeping on your back isn't comfortable either. At least not for me. Unless I take some sort of sleeping pill to put me to sleep at night, I almost never have a well rested night it seems.
So, within the last year, I thought more about the surgery comment my doctor said. I finally started researching surgery for sleep apnea. There were several procedures listed on the AASM website (www.sleepeducation.org), but my doctor told me there are only really two surgical procedures that will be successful in curing sleep apnea. Now, keep in mind, he is speaking in terms of my diagnoses. Other procedures may in fact cure sleep apnea for other patients. In fact, simply losing weight may cure sleep apnea for others. For me, my apnea wasn't caused by being overweight, but by an underdeveloped jaw which doesn't give much room for breathing. So, for me, there's only two options: Tracheostomy (NO WAY) or Maxillomandibular Advancement (MMA.)
MMA involves breaking the upper and lower jaw, moving the jaws forwarded, installing spacers, and screwing them back to your skull. Sounds like such much fun, doesn't it? However, this procedure has a very high success rate for curing sleep apnea. There are also cosmetic benefits to the surgery as well. If you have a weak chin in which you don't have a very attractive side profile, this surgery will improve that feature. Some people have this done, strictly, for cosmetic reasons. Let me stress to you that if this is a reason for having the surgery, good luck getting your insurance to pay for it. However, if you do have a medical reason for having the surgery, such as being diagnosed with sleep apnea, then you might be in luck.
I am scheduled for a consultation with the surgeon in December. My insurance has approved me for the procedure, so I'm probably going to go through it. Recovery is 6-8 weeks, but one may continue to feel numbness in the face for up to a year. As you would imagine, this is a very serious surgery. Anytime bones are broken and pieced back together with screws, especially when it comes to your face, that's pretty serious stuff. Admittedly, this surgery is probably not for everyone, and my wife is certainly freaking out over me having this procedure done. But for me, I am a "nip it in the bud" sort of guy. I don't just want to treat symptoms, I want them permanently fixed. This is my hope, anyway.
One last closing comment. The only advice I will give you is that if you think you may have a sleeping disorder, especially sleep apnea, I would urge you to go see your doctor and get a referral for a sleep test. They even have sleep studies you can do at home. If there is any chance you might have sleep apnea, it is nothing to take lightly. Sleep apnea can lead to so many other major health issues, and yes, even death. At least get checked out and then know your options once you have been diagnosed. OK, and one more last piece of advice. Please do not listen to those who sway you from getting your apnea treated or even cured. While some develop sleep apnea because of obesity, that is not the only reason why someone would have it. There may be more physiological reasons for having sleep apnea that doesn't involve weight at all. Please get checked out. Please treat it. Your rest and your life depend on it.
© 2017 Greg Sykes