It’s a wonder that I still know how to breathe

After months of following the Democratic primaries and cheering for Barack Obama’s victory, did I watch his acceptance speech last night? Did I scour the crowd for signs of my friends Greg Greene and Jen Sorenson, who were both in the crowd? Did I relish a speech well done, a fight well fought, and clear signs that the candidate is coming out swinging against a weak Republican nominee? Did I?

Well, actually … no. As Barack was starting his speech, I was getting 30 electrodes applied to my head and body and having a mask strapped to my face.

I’ve long struggled with snoring. My dad has legendary volume and persistence: a true Heldentenor of a snorer. In college my good friend Don Webb told me that he could hear me snoring through the 19th century brick wall that separated our beds when we were both residents on the Lawn at UVA. But recently it’s been getting worse, according to reliable observers, and to top it all off I’ve had decreased energy and an indomitable desire to nap whenever possible. So I finally manned up and scheduled a polysomnogram, better known as a sleep study, to see if I had sleep apnea. The first study was a few weeks ago, but I hadn’t gotten the results until last night, when I went back to try sleeping with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

The background: sleep apnea is a condition of repeated interruptions of breathing (apneas) during sleep. An apnea is defined as the cessation of normal breathing for 10 seconds or more, followed by a gasping resumption of breathing. The clinical threshold for an apnea diagnosis is 5 or more apneas per hour (5 on the AHI index).

My AHI score was a whole number multiple of the clinical threshold, meaning that I was experiencing oxygen starvation for an average of 2 minutes out of every hour. No wonder I’ve been grumpy and sleepy all the time (not to mention several other of the dwarves).

So last night I slept with a CPAP machine for the first time, and I feel amazing this morning: awake and alert, quick, and in a great mood. This despite the fact that I woke up three times (that I’m aware of) overnight–sleeping with the mask and all those wires isn’t easy.

Apparently I’ll be using a CPAP machine from now on, something that I’m actually looking forward to if it makes this much of a difference in my mood. Plus it apparently stops the snoring, which is a pretty significant bonus.

And yeah, while I’m looking forward to catching up with Barack’s speech, I’m kind of glad now that I skipped it in favor of this study. Both look like they’re going to have a big influence on my life going forward.

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