Day in the life: Waking up (updated)

This post was originally written in 2008. It’s one of the first I wrote for this blog. And it’s still pertinent! I’ve been using a CPAP for over 10 years now. I have problems falling asleep without it. Not because I snore or otherwise sleep poorly without it – because I’m so used to having the CPAP when I sleep.

On the good side, when I was in the local hospital’s ICU, I put on the CPAP and was able to sleep. Some of the nurses were surprised.


Often I wake before the alarm. Usually I snuggle under the covers until it goes off.  The man of the house may already be up, but he knows I’m still “sleeping” until my facemask comes off.

I have moderate “obstructive sleep apnea” (OSA)

Image of my CPAP mask
Manufacturer’s pic of my CPAP mask

I sleep with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine) which is basically a fan with a facemask to keep the airway open.  The CPAP is touted as 100% effective in treating sleep apnea among those who actually, you know, use it, and I actually do.

What is sleeping with a CPAP like?  Initially it was very weird, breathing with all that air inside my windpipe.  Exhaling especially.  I felt like I was drowning in air for the first 20 minutes.  I coped by reading (fortunately the mask doesn’t keep me from reading) and after an hour I felt fine.

What does it do for my sleep?

  • I sleep longer without waking myself up.  I generally feel better after 7 or 8 hours of sleep than I used to feel after 9 or 10.
  • My mouth isn’t dry when I wake up.
  • It’s much rarer for me to have a sore throat when I wake up.

My original mask had a cap on the top of my head – rather like a bike helmet. The air tube connects on my head, then feeds down between my eyes to the nose. Instead of a cap over the nose there are two ‘nasal pillows’ that feed air to my nostrils. It appealed to me because it seemed less likely that I’d roll onto the air tube in my sleep.  (You can see a picture of the style here.) This style doesn’t touch my face much, which means fewer zits  :)  Later I switched to ResMed Swift FX for Her mask, which has less hard plastic to break or coddle when traveling.

Sleep apnea is considered to be “obesity-related”

I went in meet with a sleep specialist expecting be told, “Yes, you have apnea, now lose weight”.  I had geared myself up for an argument over the ease of losing weight vs other treatment.  I was ready to point out that I KNOW thin people get sleep apnea, because I grew up hearing my thin, athletic father stop breathing between snores.

I found there was no fight necessary.

Going over the intake paperwork, the doc saw that my parents both snored.  He asked me about their snoring; mom’s was steady, dad’s was loud but interrupted, and I sometimes heard him wake up briefly before resuming snoring.  The man of the house confirmed that I stop breathing, too.

“Sounds like you and your parents have sleep apnea,” he said, “It often runs in families.  Me, my brothers, our father, his brothers – we’re all skinny snorers.”

“Skinny snorers?”  It was a new term for me.

“Yup.  Sleep apnea is related to weight, as a physical thing, becase more weight means the muscles have to work harder to expand the chest.  But it is also related to the size of the airway.  Both weight and airways are hereditary, so.” He pulled out a flashlight.  “Mind if I look at the airway in your mouth?”  He peered in, nodded, and said, “You’d probably be a skinny snorer.  Lose weight if you want – but don’t expect that it’ll fix the sleep apnea.”

Will losing weight fix sleep apnea?

Imagine my surprise when I saw sleep apnea listed as a justification to have weight-loss surgery by the NIH among those who are otherwise not “fat enough”.

A study on how weight-loss surgery affects sleep apnea recently released its results.

“A new study shows that obstructive sleep apnea often persists after weight loss surgery, but most patients don’t realize that and wind up taking risks with their health. […]

It’s not that their sleep apnea was unchanged. Their symptoms eased to varying degrees, but not enough to end their obstructive sleep apnea.”

You do not have to be fat to have sleep apnea.  Before she died, my mother and I tried to get my father in for a sleep test, both before and after I got my CPAP.  Dad refused.   I hope others out there have more sense.

(And be glad they have CPAPs now.  Much nicer than a tracheostomy!!)


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