Spending the night with Charles T. Pap (CPAP)

Stuff white toy bear is shown wearing a CPAP mask with straps around his head and a hose coming out the top of his head to demonstrate how it looks.

I call him Charlie. Charles T. Pap for formal occasions. No, it’s not a boyfriend, dog, turtle, car, or a character in one of my novels. It’s my CPAP machine. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. People wear these machines to keep them breathing steadily during the night when they would otherwise intermittently stop breathing due to sleep apnea. This is hard on the heart and other organs. It also robs sufferers of good sleep so, like me, they keep falling asleep during the day.

You might have slept with someone who has it. They snore and snore and then . . . silence. Then maybe a snort and more snoring. They may even snore so loudly they wake themselves up. I have done that. I have also recorded myself snoring. My husband, who did not snore, was a saint to put up with that. I’m pretty sure my mother had it. She snored like crazy and fell asleep often during the day, just like me.

Ironically, my brother and I brought home our brand new identical CPAP machines on the same day in June, so we compare notes. He tried another model before and gave up after a few days, but he’s sticking with this one because he has heart trouble and isn’t ready to die in his sleep. Me, I’m just tired of being tired.

You can’t get a prescription for a CPAP machine without having a sleep study. I wrote about that here in May, complete with embarrassing photo. You can read it here. The study showed that I stopped breathing about every 30 seconds when I slept on my back, less often when I lay on my side. Not terrible, but concerning. Just sleep on your side, you say? I thought I did, but it turns out I spend a good portion of the night on my back.

I will not be posting a photo of me wearing Charlie strapped around my face. It looks ridiculous. You have a hose running from the machine to a nozzle on the top of your head, another strap behind your head, and more straps holding a rubber nosepiece that looks alarmingly like a hospital intubation tube. In the model I have, my mouth is free, but many older CPAPs cover both nose and mouth. Nope, nope, nope, not for me.

The sleep doc gave me three months to try out the CPAP and see if it helped. If it didn’t, I could give it back and be done with it. Oh, how I wish that were the case, but I know I sleep more soundly with it on, with Charlie breathing moist air into my nose all night. Dang it.

Charlie takes almost as much maintenance as my old dog, who is catching some extra z’s beside me as I type. Clean these parts every day, these other parts once a week, refill the humidifier tub with distilled water daily, replace the filter, the nosepiece, the mask, and the hose at different times and the whole thing every few years . . .

My brother is more meticulous than I am. Every morning he puts a little baby shampoo on his finger and washes out his facemask and humidifier tub. I do it about once a week. I’m still trying to figure out how to get it dry by bedtime. It’s damp here on the Oregon coast. Last night near midnight I was standing in the bathroom in my nightgown blow-drying the padding on the sides of the nosepiece. When I put it on, water dripped onto my lips and chin for the first hour. Combine that with restless legs and a brain full of too many TV shows, and I didn’t fall asleep till the wee hours. To entertain myself, I watched videos on my phone on how to clean my CPAP.

At my telemed appointment tomorrow with the sleep doc, we will discuss my experience with the CPAP. Charlie is connected to the internet, and the doc will have a print-out of my numbers, hours of usage, oxygen saturation, etc. They know what I’m doing in bed! Well, at least with Charlie. They don’t know why it’s so off and on some nights and a steady seven or eight hours on other nights.

Sleeping hooked up to a machine, with a mask on your face and a hose coming out of the top of your head is weird and unnatural. Having Googled CPAPs online, I’m receiving lots of ads for less invasive machines and alternatives to CPAPs. I am not uninterested, but I am still hoping my relationship with Charlie will work out.

I got used to wearing curlers in my hair every night and sleeping with a headgear attached to my buck teeth in my teens. I can do this. Maybe. Experts say one-third to one-half of people prescribed CPAP machines quit or never bother to start. I know I never wanted this, but Charlie is here, and I’m hoping we can get along.

Have you or a loved one used a CPAP machine? How did it go? Were you able to stick with it? Why or why not? Any advice for this CPAP rookie?

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Sleep Study: A Most Unnatural Night

A voice in the darkness: “Sue, your sleep study is over.”

No. I didn’t sleep. “What time is it?”

“About 6. I’ll come in to remove your wires. Then you can shower and go home.”

But . . .

Bright lights. Soon Dawn, the sleep technician, was removing wires, ripping tape off my face, chin, neck, chest, and legs, and ungluing wires from my matted hair. It hurt. That tape is a good substitute for hair removal wax.

I had had a pain in my throat all night. Maybe it was from snoring, she suggested. She said I snored all night.

But I didn’t sleep. How can anyone sleep while attached to dozens of wires, with a light flashing every few seconds and a voice coming through the speakers? Dawn came in twice to reattach wires that had come loose, one on my leg and one on my hair, and again when I started to get up to use the restroom.

I had taken a sleeping pill at 10 p.m. and another at 2;30 a.m. They didn’t seem to do anything. But here she was telling me it was over and I had slept.

“We’re going to go through the exercises we did when you went to sleep. Look up and down five times. Look side to side five times, using only your eyes. Pretend you’re grinding your teeth for 10 seconds. Clear your throat. Flex your left foot five times. Do the same with your right foot.”

I wanted to cry. I wanted to sleep. But she was waiting for me to shower and get out of there. She did not understand I don’t get up like that. I ease into my day with orange juice and prayer and a peek at my email . . .

“Do you have any juice?” I asked. She brought me apple juice. I hate apple juice, but at least it was cold and sweet.

The queen-sized bathroom had a handicap-accessible shower, meaning no ridge to walk over or to keep the water in and a detachable nozzle on a hose. In lieu of soap, Dawn handed me a bottle of Johnson and Johnson body wash/shampoo.

Most of the tape and glue came off in the warm water, although two hours later, I still had cheek creases where the nose piece crossed my face. I dressed in yesterday’s clothes and filled out forms that evaluated my experience and asked if I felt all right to drive. In reality, I didn’t. I was still trying to crawl back into that sleep I didn’t have.

If I had read the materials that came with my “sleep aids,” I would have made other arrangements. Those are some strong drugs. They warn that you may do or say things while on them that you will not remember afterward. But I checked yes, and when Dawn asked if I was sure I could drive, I replied that if I took a taxi, I would have no way to retrieve my car. So yes, I would drive. Out of the hospital, over the bridge, down the highway and into the woods to my yellow house behind the big hedge.

And I wept. I cried in the car and I cried in my living room as I greeted the dog. At least she seemed fine.

Why was I crying? It was uncomfortable and invasive. I had no one to keep me company or give me a ride or take me to breakfast. Dawn was kind and considerate and extremely skilled, but I still felt as if someone had beaten me.

The sleep room is on the second floor of the new hospital in Newport. The accommodations are brilliantly designed. The room is cozier than many motel rooms, with a double bed, two nightstands, a TV, and a private bathroom. The bed is adjustable, there are unlimited blankets, plug-ins for electronics, and a big swivel chair where they sit you to hook up the wires. “The electric chair,” I said. Dawn didn’t get the joke.

I wasn’t the only one doing the sleep study. A man was waiting when I arrived. As Dawn took him past me to the elevator, I joked, “I guess we’ll be sleeping together tonight.” He turned all red and stuttered something about his wife. Hey, I was kidding.

I didn’t see him again, but I wondered off and on how he was doing.

With every step of the process, I had to wait for Dawn to finish with my sleep buddy, so I had time to watch “American Idol” on TV relatively undisturbed, even when she was hooking me up.

The lights-out part was harder. It was very dark except for a foot-wide infrared light and that flashing white light that felt like I was having my picture taken every few seconds. And that voice.

Every time I moved, I wondered what wire I was disturbing, but Dawn said they wanted me to sleep in all positions.

I kept waiting to relax, but I never felt it. Then it was, “Sue, your sleep study is over.”

It’s like those dreams where you find yourself taking a final exam after you forgot to come to class all semester.

Did I pass? I still don’t have the results. Dawn knows, but she isn’t sharing.

After my sleep study, I fed the dog, had a long cry, ate my homemade bread-and-grapefruit breakfast, and reported to my office.

Where I fell asleep.

Did you miss last week’s post about sleep studies last week? Click “Sleep Study will Show What the Dog Already Knows” to read it.

Some of you have already shared your sleep study experiences in the comments here or on Facebook. Keep them coming.

Here’s a question: If you were prescribed a CPAP breathing machine for sleep apnea, did you get one? Are you still using it? Does it keep you awake?

Happy snoozing, everyone.

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Sleep Study will Show What the Dog Already Knows

I’m not a great sleeper. I don’t know how anyone ever managed to sleep beside me when I was sharing my bed. I snore, I make frequent trips to the bathroom, and I have wild dreams. I also have restless leg syndrome (RLS) which gets so bad some nights I’m walking the halls in the dark, trying to shake out my twitches. Sometimes I listen to the radio or take a hot bath at midnight. Even the dog wishes I would just go to sleep like she does. I’m trying. 

 Clearly my night sleep is not giving my body what it needs. I sit down to write in the mornings, and I doze off, my pen leaving a black streak on the page. I read by the fireplace or in the sun, and I doze off. I’m streaming a TV show and wake to find three episodes have gone by.

In college, I slept through most of my astronomy class, much of my art appreciation class, and just about any class where they turned down the lights. I even slept through one of the “Lord of the Rings” movies. Those impromptu naps give me the deepest, most wonderful sleep. But I also get really sleepy driving the car, and that’s not good.

So, tonight I’m having a sleep study. They will see if I have sleep apnea, sudden intermittent cessations of breathing frequently experienced by people who snore. I probably do. It runs in the family. Have I ever awakened myself with my snoring? I have. Not fun. Yes, I know my heart could stop and . . . you’d never read my next book. 

They will also look at the RLS and any other weird stuff I do in my sleep. I will be attached to an assortment of sensors. I will have stuff taped to my body and glued in my hair, and the technicians will observe me, monitoring my brain, nervous system and muscle activity, as well as breathing and heart function. 

You know that icky feeling when you wake and find someone staring at you? Now my insurance is paying for me to have strangers do that. 

I am supposed to arrive without makeup and wearing a COVID mask, put on pajamas, which I don’t usually wear (I’m a nightshirt girl), and go to bed way earlier than usual. Meanwhile Annie, who follows me around all day, is going to panic. Where’s Sue? She never came home

I’m hoping the “sleep aid” they prescribed knocks me out. But if I’m knocked out with a sleeping pill, how can they get an accurate picture?  And how will they know when I’m in the various stages of sleep?

Such questions kept me awake last night. I could fall asleep right now typing at my desk. But the instructions for today say NO NAPS. I also have to limit my caffeine. Come on!

I’m thinking the first thing I’ll want to do when they unstick me and let me go at 6 a.m. is take a nap. 

After I apologize to my dog. They should just ask Annie. She knows how I sleep. She spent last night next to my bed. Now she’s sacked out on her bed, running in a dream. 

Maybe I’m just part dog. 

My neighbor says he got partway through his sleep study, tore everything off, and stormed out, saying “To hell with this.” I don’t plan to do that, but I sure am looking forward to being done with it. 

Have you had a sleep study? How was it? Did you get the answers you needed? Would you want to do it again? 

Here’s some interesting info from the Mayo Clinic. Did you know the official word for a sleep study is “polysomnography”? There you go.

Send your comments. I’ll be awake. 

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