March 10 – 16 is Sleep Awareness Week, an important reminder that sleep is vital to your health and well-being. But some people may have a condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and when left untreated, OSA can zap your energy and impact your health. To get a better understanding of the condition, we sat down with Carrie N., who shared her personal experience avoiding the signs, reluctantly speaking with her healthcare provider, and then reaping the benefits of treatment.

When did you know something was wrong?

I probably had sleep apnea for decades…well, a long time anyway. But I was too embarrassed to get help for it. It sounds silly now. I was a loud snorer, so I didn’t want to sleep in the same room with anyone else because they wouldn’t hear me snore. I was even worried when I was having a medical procedure that I’d snore while I was under anesthesia. I can remember the first thing I asked when I woke up after the procedure was if I had snored. My fear of snoring wasn’t fun, and it impacted me in ways I struggle to explain. But that alone didn’t cause me to speak with my healthcare provider.

Carrie N.

It was late afternoon, and I was driving home, with about 2 ½ hours to go, and I needed to pull over to take a nap. I was just so tired. I rested a bit and then got driving, but soon I had to pull over again. I’m in my 50s and I needed two naps a day just to function. I knew I needed to act. I started reviewing my journal entries from the past few years and it dawned on me that my quality of life was horrible. It had deteriorated so much; I was just trying to get by with the energy I had left but I was so tired all the time.

My dad had sleep apnea, and that’s probably one of the reasons I held off so long. I didn’t want to confirm the diagnosis I was pretty sure I was living with. But that ride home with two naps was the tipping point.

How did you come to be diagnosed with sleep apnea?

I knew I needed to get a sleep study done, so I made an appointment to see my healthcare provider. I’m not a big talker in medical appointments so it was tough for me to bring up the issue. I decided to prepare by writing my concerns down on a piece of paper and bringing it with me. I plucked up my courage and told my doctor, “I have five things written down that I want to discuss with you. This is hard for me to talk about so please work with me to get through this list.” And then I started with my number one request – to get my sleep evaluated.

The sleep study was scheduled, and I went to the lab to spend the night. It’s a hoot. They put wires all over your body, tell you they will be watching you all night, but please have a great night. It took a little while, but I fell asleep eventually. They came in and woke me in the middle of the night and asked me to put on a mask, which I did. Long story short, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea.

How has treating your sleep apnea helped?

The day I got my sleep apnea machine was like bringing home a puppy. It was life changing. I was so hoping it would change my life and it really did. It was also potentially lifesaving, we’ll never know, but I feel good about taking care of myself. To be able to get through a day without feeling tired all the time? I didn’t have that before.

Sleep apnea is a common condition where your airways narrow or close during sleep, stopping airflow and causing apneas or short periods when you are not breathing. It is estimated that about 10-30% of adults in the US may have this condition. There are serious potential consequences to undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea. Besides making sleep difficult, it can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, and may result in early death. There are several effective ways to treat sleep apnea.

Those years before I was diagnosed and treated were probably some of the worst years of my marriage. Getting good sleep helped me be in a better mood, my relationship with everyone improved. My work productivity improved.

What is the worst thing about wearing a mask at night to sleep.

Honestly, there is not one bad thing about it. The machine is quiet. The mask I wear is comfortable. It’s not as good as not wearing anything, but the results I get from wearing that mask are amazing. The first night I wore a mask it took me a while to get used to it. But by the second night, I was hooked on the good sleep it helped me get.

What do you wish people knew about sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea has a PR issue. I laugh now at how horrified I was for people to know I snored. When you snore, the people near you can’t sleep and they make jokes about you. What they need to do is tell you that your snoring may be harming your health, and you should speak with your healthcare provider and get your sleep checked out. We need to know people care about us and our health, and that can help motivate us to start a conversation with a healthcare provider.

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