November 22, 2013

CPAP mask makes for restless nights, so far

By Jack Smith

Imagine you are dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween.  Only your mask is too small, it fogs up when you breathe,  your lips are chapped and you are claustrophobic to begin with.

Now you have to slide into bed, hook a garden hose up to your mask and try to go to sleep.

That's how my first week with a CPAP mask has gone. It's been a sleepless train wreck. It's a good thing I don't operate heavy machinery for a living. Heck, driving and typing (not at the same time) have been hard enough.

I've been given a CPAP mask because I apparently suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. While at The Menninger Clinic in Houston, they sent me out for a sleep test. That's how important they believe a good night's sleep is to mental health. It appeared almost every patient there was sent for a sleep study.

My results were just at the bottom end of severe sleep apnea. I quit breathing an average of 30 times an hour during my overnight test. No wonder I can't remember names, forget  my keys and lose my car.

II get the concept of air being pushed down my throat to keep my airway open. I just don't get how anybody sleeps in fighter pilot gear.  I look a fatter version of Goose in "Top Gun" wearing this ridiculous thing.

Football players can buckle a chin strip while jogging onto the field, but my mask has two snaps you can't see when putting it on and taking it off and velcro straps that hold it onto your head that have to be undone every time you get up to go to the bathroom, which is a lot on this side of 40.

Insomnia is nothing new for me. As a little boy, I lay awake for hours listening to the grinding throttle of 18-wheeler diesel trucks chugging down the busy highway very close to our house.

My mother tells me that as an infant, I slept in the laundry room. Maybe the hum of the dryer helped me go to sleep, because today I'm very particular about having white noise in the background. We look like the Clampetts checking into hotels as I drag my dusty box fan and favorite pillow along. Without either, I can't sleep.

Why does all this matter? There a bunch of health reasons, but my doctor told me good sleep and a regular routine are really important for bipolar patients.

I'm trying, doc. I really am.