Just One More Snooze…..

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

For six years, my life was ruled by a cruelly unwavering, unnatural tiredness and there wasn’t a single morning when I didn’t wake up feeling unrefreshed, cranky and extremely lethargic.

My eyes were constantly heavy; my energy and concentration levels remained persistently low, and my social life took an absolute battering.

The fatigue presided daily, despite a full eight hours of sleep every night, but little did I know the problem lie with the quality of those eight hours of slumber.

When I was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) in early 2012 at age 29, I’d never even heard of the common sleeping disorder, and was surprised to learn of its prevalence amongst the middle-aged and overweight, not the young and physically fit.

Before I was diagnosed, every morning was a struggle to get out of bed; I survived on regular caffeine fixes and hated driving for the fear I would one day fall asleep at the wheel.

Weekends were particularly grim – without the focus of work, I was constantly tempted to nap throughout the day and I struggled to stay awake until 9pm.
Getting engaged on Boxing Day 2011 proved the catalyst for my discovery, as I was determined not to feel tired for my October 2012 nuptials.

I’d always put the tiredness down to a long battle with low iron levels, but when that was ruled out, I was forced to explore other reasons behind my constant sleepiness.

My husband-to-be had casually mentioned that during sleep, my breathing became increasingly shallow until I stopped altogether.

After a few seconds, I would choke, gasping for air until I began breathing again, and once again, my breathing became shallow and the process repeated over and over.

With limited knowledge of sleep apnoea, I was slow to realise this could be a factor in my lethargy, so it was pure luck that I mentioned it to my doctor.

He immediately referred me to a sleep specialist, and a home sleep study exposed OSA as the cause.

OSA occurs when the airway from the mouth to the lungs collapses during sleep, starving the body of oxygen before the brain prompts the body to breathe again.

My rate of apnoeas was 44 per hour; meaning that every hour I would stop breathing 44 times and was prompted by my brain to begin breathing again.

Compare that to a mobile phone ringing every 90 seconds whilst you are asleep – no wonder I was tired!

My relief was overwhelming – I finally had a definitive condition I could work towards improving – there’s no cure for sleep apnoea, just a range of treatments to improve the symptoms.

I tried the most popular treatment, Continual Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP), which is a small machine that, via a facial mask, blows air into the airways to prevent them collapsing during sleep.

Eight weeks later, my CPAP experience had failed in spectacular fashion, and I had managed just one night of sleep using the mask.

I’m grateful now that the treatment didn’t work, as it forced me to explore other options, and I was referred to a local dentist who specialises in custom-made oral appliances to treat OSA.

He discovered that my jaw was underdeveloped, and that my tongue was slipping to the back of my throat when I slept, blocking the airways.

I began wearing my made-to-order mouth plate, known as a daytime-night-time appliance (DNA), on my top teeth which is slowly expanding my jaw, creating more room for my tongue.

From the first night, it created a little extra room in my mouth for my tongue, significantly reducing the number of nightly apnoeas.

I sleep with it in every night and in May 2013, received another DNA appliance for my bottom jaw, which needs to catch up to the top.

Over 12 months later, I am a different person – this small, unobtrusive treatment has given me a life again.

I still get tired and enjoy the occasional daytime nap, but not to the extreme I once did.

The consequences of untreated OSA are life-threatening – cardiovascular disease, stroke and high blood pressure – not to mention an increased risk of vehicular accidents – are all common aliments for sufferers.

Many OSA sufferers aren’t aware they have the disorder – like myself, it usually takes a ‘bed partner’ to notice the symptoms.

If you suffer from persistent daytime sleepiness with no apparent reason, ask your GP to refer you for a sleep study.

OSA can affect people at any age and of all shapes and sizes – I’m living proof of that.

By Rebecca Sorby

1 Comment

  1. Andrew

    16/10/2013 at 4:49 am

    This story sounds like so many we have heard. The awareness of OSA is low so people just don’t realize they have a problem. We all just accept tiredness as a part of life but in a lot of circumstances it is a warning sign of further issues. The internet has many articles highlighting the issue. Any one who has an affinity with this story must seek advice from a medical professional.

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