Hi Sandy,

Thanks for your post. What a perfect topic to bring into our "Mind Fog" discussion!

Being as both my husband and I use PAP machines, I can knowledgeably agree with your statement:
I sure wish they'd been available years ago so I wouldn't have had so many snore-filled sleepless nights!

My first husband snored so loudly that I recall a time when he was sleeping in the bedroom upstairs, and guests in the living room and kitchen -- both downstairs -- were giggling over the fact that we could hear him!

By the time I married Steve I had perfected the ability to instantly fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow: Being asleep was my only defense against the snoring -- but if I didn't get to sleep first, it was never going to happen!

So when I discovered that Steve snored, I was prepared. But in his case, what I started to notice, was that there would be breaks in the snoring. At first I welcomed them, but then I began to understand that during those breaks, he was actually not breathing. I was pretty positive about this, because when the snoring started again, it always was preceded by a gasping noise.

Steve actually tells this part of the story pretty well in a blog post he wrote several years ago: Sleep Apnea Almost Killed Me!

Anyway, fast forward a year or so, and I found myself also diagnosed with sleep apnea. In my case, the diagnosis began after I woke up in the bathroom in the middle of the night, staring at myself in the mirror -- and totally unable to breathe!

Apparently I had stopped breathing so long during sleep that my airway had collapsed -- and I was unable to open it again through gasping. It was a very dramatic moment for me: while I stared at myself in the mirror and one side of my brain said, "You're dying," and the other side said, "No, it's OK; this has happened before. Just keep trying to move air through your esophagus. Eventually you'll get clear."

As the one side of my brain promised, my throat finally "opened up" and I could breathe as if nothing had happened.

I recall sitting on the side of the tub and trying to figure out what had just transpired. Actually, I was petrified by the thought of going back to bed, worried that this would all start up again as soon as I got back to sleep.

First thing in the morning, I called my doctor's office. They said they could see me in 2 weeks. Unable to wait that long - convinced I might be dead in two weeks -- I called my husband's doctor's office and told them my story. They said, "Come in immediately." So I did.

I saw Peg, a nurse practitioner who has become my PCP. She did some tests in the office and then sent me to the hospital for an EKG and some other stuff which took a few weeks to happen.

Peg sent me home with a prescription for some kind of loud breathing machine that I had to be hooked up to at night via nasal cannula. All I remember about it is that it somehow generates oxygen out of room air.

While I may have forgotten what that machine was called, I do know that it gave me confidence that my soft palate would not collapse during the night while we continued testing.

Eventually, with everything else was ruled out, they set up an appointment for me to visit the sleep lab.

I was slightly astounded; doubted I had sleep apnea, but I willing went because I needed to find out what had caused my "situation."

Three visits to the sleep lab later - yes, it was not easy - it was determined that I have very severe sleep apnea. Bottom line: A C-PAP can't generate enough air to keep my throat open. So I use what's called a "Bi-PAP" machine.

Let's just explain it by saying that the "PAP" stands for "positive airway pressure," and that number your PAP machine is set to has to do with how much pressure is being pumped into you to keep the airways open.

Steve's PAP number is 7. Mine is 25. But that's too much air pressure to be continuous -- You can't breathe out against it. So the "bi" part refers to the fact that my machine alternately backs off the pressure, so I can exhale.

By the way, I don't start out the night with that amount of pressure immediately. My machine ramps up to it over time, starting at 12. (Yes, my ramp starts higher than my husband's final pressure. But we don't dwell on that. He thinks 7 is a lot of pressure. And, quite honestly, the techs at the sleep lab weren't sure I would be able to tolerate all that pressure. It's second nature to me now... )

Now all of this might sound horrid, but let me tell you this: Since I began sleeping with the machine, I am alert all day, I never fall asleep at the computer, when driving, during sermons in church or during long-winded after dinner-speeches. ALL of which used to happen to me.

Best of all, I can drive all day or all night -- and have -- without becoming drowsy. Prior to knowing about my problem, I used to eat candy, chew gum, keep my window open, and keep the radio playing loudly in order to stay awake during any driving trip in excess of 30 minutes.

Steve had gotten used to the fact that another way I stayed awake during long driving trips was to stop the car and run around it a few times -- "to get my blood moving again," I said.

(Prior to my diagnosis, if I didn't do those things, it was possible that I would find myself asleep at the wheel -- in an instant, and without much warning. I say this based on experience. Thankfully I never hit anyone or anything when this happened.)

Now I am alert all day long, and so much better able to keep track of all life's details and manage my work.

Here's more: I was diagnosed a few years PRIOR to the sleep apena with Type 2 Diabetes, and I think it was probably brought on by all the candy I used to eat in order to stay awake...

These days my blood sugar numbers are always in the normal range, and the only thing I'm doing differently is that I no longer consume ridiculous amounts of sugar to stay awake. I'm not on insulin or any other drugs, and I pretty much eat the same things as anyone else. Even dessert.

I also no longer have any problems with acid reflux.

Bottom line: I love my PAP machine and would never sleep a night without it. I am so glad to be clear of the mind fog I used to live with constantly.

Sandy, I'm so delighted you brought up this topic, as I suspect there are a TON of people out in the world living with some degree of sleep apnea, whose lives would be so much better if they were diagnosed. But they aren't, because snoring seems like such a "harmless" problem.

Oh, one last thing: If you know someone who has been diagnosed with sleep apena, but who can't tolerate the mask that they have been prescribed, I can understand. None of the masks they tried on me would fit properly.

They might fit at first, but as I started to relax into sleep, my facial muscles relaxed, and the mask would no longer be tight fitting. This meant air would escape, and that led to OBNOXIOUS squealing noises.

Steve doesn't have a full or partial face mask. He uses a little nose piece, about two inches wide, which fits into the nose and then hooks up to a hose which delivers the air. When Rosie O'Donnell demonstrated HER mask on TV a few years ago, she had a similar nose piece, though hers was bigger.

As I was getting used to the PAP machine, Steve was considering having to sleep in a separate room because he was so bothered by the squealing noises. They bothered me too, as fixing the mask required a certain amount of arousal -- and then having to get back to sleep again.

IN desperation one night, I tried one of Steve's nasal pillows (yes, that's what they are called) and voila! Problem solved. The techs at the medical equipment store where I went to get fitted were amazed when I told them what solution was working for me. Their training had said that anyone with pressures as high as mine MUST HAVE a full face mask.

To which I can tell you: I love the nasal pillows, they are quite unobtrusive, and much preferable to the masks.

OK enough about me. Anyone else out there using a PAP machine?

Boomer in Chief of Boomer Women Speak and the National Association of Baby Boomer Women.