Sleep. It’s something we all have in common.
I’ve had a peculiar relationship with sleep for so many years. For so many of them I thought I suffered from insomnia. I never felt like I had a decent night’s sleep. I would always toss and turn, snatching a few hours here and there. I never felt like I dreamt at all, inever really understood the concept. Progressively I developed bags under my eyes, and also my nerves would seem shot to shit the less sleep I had.
A few years ago Sarah sat me down and showed my a video of me sleeping. It was a short video, only a minute or two long, and you couldn’t see anything as it was in the middle of the night. But you could hear me sleeping.
Or rather you couldn’t. You could hear me take a few ragged breaths, then you wouldn’t hear anything, no sounds of breathing at all for about twenty to thirty seconds, then I’d start again.
That wasn’t normal, even I knew that. I made a doctor’s appointment and up we went. Sarah explained to the young GP (who’s my current doctor) what was happening in my sleep and he referred me to a sleep clinic at the Freeman Hospital. I didn’t have to stay overnight thankfully, but I had to wear a lot of sensory equipment overnight to measure what was happening to my body as I tried to sleep.
Having a health care assistant as a partner meant Sarah got me wired up properly and I went to bed that night looking like a cheap knock-off Borg.
The next day saw me back at the Freeman to hand everything over and get the results. My respiratory nurse explained the results to me. I had been diagnosed with sleep apnoea, a condition normally found in older people or people who are grossly overweight. I wasn’t really either but what happens is my throat muscles relax so much when I’m sleeping that they close off my windpipe which is what was stopping my breathing in the night. Not only that but there’s a scale for apnoea fact fans! They class severe sleep apnoea as having an average of more than twenty instances where your blood oxygen levels drop under a certain percentage.
I was averaging eighty five.
No wonder I was constantly feeling tired and not rested! I was given a CPAP machine to use each night. What this does is it sucks air from the room via a filter (to get rid of any dust) and forces it via a face mask under pressure into my windpipe to keep it inflated and stop it collapsing.
I’ll admit, it took a bit of getting used to. I have the mask strapped over my mouth every night with a thick plastic air tube connecting myself and air pump but, after a few weeks I got used to it. Okay, I look like a cross between a second world war fighter pilot and Bane, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
Breathing through the night and getting proper rest has certainly been a benefit, but there’s a few downsides to it too. If I want sleep, I need to wear it so it has to come with me when I stay anywhere overnight. The mask and tubing is quite restrictive and controls how you sleep. I pretty much sleep on my side and subconsciously I’m aware of not wrapping myself up in the air tube as I sleep. We also now sleep with a cushion between mine and Sarah’s pillows to stop her being hit in the face through the night with the thin jet of air.
There’s some aspects of it that have had an affect on me, almost as psychological and physical effects. There is an after effect of being filled with air all night. I wake up and my stomach is bloated and filled with excess air and it has to come out somehow. Cue some weird and wonderful noises as I continuely break wind for a good while. If you ever need comedy flatulence noises, please get in touch.
It’s taken me a while to get used to a better quality of sleep. Because im now exposed to having dreams they kind of freak me out. I spent years not really experiencing them so now they have a strong power over me. A bad dream can leave me incredibly freaked out as it takes a while for my brain to process what’s real and what isn’t, leaving me confused and disorientated.
It’s going to sound peculiar but just as a poor night’s sleep can trigger my anxiety, so can waking from a deep sleep. Again, it feels like it takes me a while to adjust from being fast asleep to bring awake and seems to knock on the door of my anxiety. I’ll always find myself feeling nervous for a good while, the coiled feeling of anxiety settling comfortably into my chest like it always belongs there.
There’s also something else, something that I’ve never really admitted to many people. Since wearing the CPAP machine I’ve become paranoid about it leaving marks on my face from wearing it. They’re visibly noticeable when I first wake up and take off the mask. There’s the mark it leaves around my mouth, cheeks and nose, and also across my forehead. I’ve become more and more self conscious of them, especially the one on my brow, as I’m sure they’re visible to everyone, even though I’ve been told that they’re not. Even if they’re invisible I’m still aware that they’re there.
There’s a reason behind me telling you all of this. Sleep is a huge influence on our moods. Before I was diagnosed with apnoea my moods were all over the place. I would be jittery as hell, moody, manic, depressive. Honestly, I’d be total mess and unpredictable as hell. At least the better sleep kind of helps that a bit.