A reader writes:
Being a single twentysomething woman with sleep apnea sucks.
I'm overweight, so there's that, but then when I'm wearing my mask, I feel unladylike and mechanical. Not that I've ever been dainty and sweet and serene while sleeping, but that machine makes it look much worse. I tell myself that snoring isn't exactly attractive, but I'm nervous to even meet somebody. I wonder if anybody will wake me up with a smile and a kiss ever again.
It took me two years after diagnosis to scrape up the cash and the willingness to try a CPAP. When I was diagnosed, an old boyfriend - he of the morning kisses and smiles - and I were talking about getting back together. He warned me that he thought the CPAP wasn't "sexy." He was confused as to why I needed it because he had never noticed me snoring. I was too embarrassed to tell him that I never slept at all when I "slept" over. I was afraid I would bother him while snoring or that my difficulty waking up in the morning would annoy him. Mostly I would lie very still and let myself doze a little but never sleep.
That was college. I wouldn't do that now, but I'm still sensitive to the un-sexiness of the CPAP. A few weeks ago, I told a possible romantic partner about the machine and he said, "You don't wear it during sex, right? If you don't, I guess it will be alright."
Like you, my partner was clueless that he would cease breathing while asleep and couldn't figure out why he was perpetually tired. I had noticed that he would stop breathing during the night, although I didn't think it was complete cessation. I also didn't say anything to him about it for some time, because all it took was a gentle nudge and he would resume breathing. After a few years, it became more difficult to rouse him from apneic cessation and we both began to suffer from sleep deprivation. He from the apnea, and I from conditioning. His long periods without breathing trained me to sleep so lightly that I would jolt fully awake within seconds of an apneic cessation. At this point a gentle nudge, nay, even a violent nudge had no effect. Many nights it would take me straddling him, shaking him by the shoulders and shouting his name to get him to resume breathing.
After months of this, I did some research, told him I thought he was suffering from sleep apnea and begged him to see his doctor. Fortunately, he listened. The doctor prescribed a CPAP machine, which he wore for several months. To our dismay, the apnea continued even with the machine. I can't even begin to describe the sheer panic of thinking he had died when he would stop breathing while wearing the mask.
After several episodes of his awakening to the bedroom lights on, and me yanking the mask off of his face while desperately shouting his name, he saw his doctor once again. This time the doctor scheduled him for a sleep study - the results of which were not good. He stopped breathing 24 times in a period of only two hours.
Considering the results, the doctor recommended surgery, which my partner agreed to. It was rather invasive; they removed his tonsils, his uvula, some of the soft palate at the back of his throat, and much of his adenoid sinus tissue. The recovery was painful and lengthy, but to this day he neither snores nor ceases breathing. The surgery was a last-resort measure - a decision neither of us took lightly. However, the alternative was was not something either of us wanted to take a chance on.
If the machine works for you, keep using it. If it stops being effective, please talk to your doctor.
(Photo by Flickrite Vicky TGAW)