“So, why are you here?,” the technician asked me. “My spouse says my snoring is pretty bad,” I responded sheepishly. The technician laughed. “That’s the number one reason we see people here. If it weren’t for spouses, a lot of people wouldn’t realize they have a problem.”
Well, I didn’t think I *had* a problem, but Spousal Unit did not agree. A discussion with my PCM led to a consultation with a sleep doctor, who decided a sleep study was in order.
I arrived for my sleep study one evening after dinner. I was told to bring my pajamas, toiletries, any medications I normally took, anything that was part of my normal night routine, and clothes for the next day. I was also told that I could bring my own pillow if I wanted.
In preparation for the sleep study, I was told not to have any caffeine or alcohol after noon on the day of the study, since caffeine and alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns.
[For more information on preparing for a sleep study, see this article from the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.]
A technician showed me to my room, which was something between a hospital room and a hotel room. It had a linoleum floor, industrial fluorescent overhead lighting, a double bed, nightstand with lamp, dresser, television, and private bathroom.
The technician explained the sleep study procedures and asked if I had any questions. Then he told me to change into my pajamas and do my evening routine to get ready for bed. He told me to open my bedroom door when I was done, and he’d be back to get me hooked up to the monitoring equipment.
When he returned, the technician placed electrodes on my face (including the corners of my eyes) and scalp. The electrodes have sticky backs, and attach directly to your skin/scalp. The electrodes are connected by a tangle of individual wires to a relay that sends electrical signals from your brain and muscles to a computer. These electrodes monitor various aspects of your sleep.
Next, the technician fastened bands around my chest and abdomen to measure breathing. Then he attached a clip to my finger to measure the level of oxygen in my blood and monitor my heart rate. (You’ve probably seen this clip before at your doctor’s office or in a hospital room – I call it the E.T. finger because it glows at the tip.)
None of the monitoring equipment was painful or particularly uncomfortable – it was just incredibly awkward.
Two sleep study warriors wired up for their studies:
After the technician got me all wired up, he gave me a call button in case I needed to summon him and told me to get comfortable, watch a little TV or read, and try to go to sleep around my normal time.
If I needed to go to the bathroom, I was supposed to summon him, and he would come and unplug some wires so I could get to the bathroom. Everything would remain attached to me (electrodes etc.), so it would be a fairly simple process to disconnect and reconnect a few connections.
After he left, I watched TV for a while, then turned off the TV and the lamp and tried to sleep.
I know veterans are supposed to be able to sleep anywhere, but I have never been able to sleep lying flat on my back. I can sleep sitting straight up, I can sleep on top of a cargo pallet in the back of a C-130, and I even fell asleep standing up once, but I cannot sleep lying on my back. This was a bit of a problem, since I had all of the monitoring equipment hooked up to me, which made it difficult to sleep on my side, and impossible to sleep on my stomach.
To make matters worse, I was hyper-alert because I was sleeping in a new place, with lots of unusual noises, and I knew I was being monitored via a video camera. Try sleeping while someone is watching you.
At one point I heard some commotion in the hallway – I found out later that one of the other patients had been sleepwalking. How they managed that with all the equipment hooked up to them, I do not know.
Several times during the night the technician came over the intercom and encouraged me to try to sleep. I must have fallen asleep eventually, because he woke me up in the morning and said it was time to go. I asked if I had had a long enough sleep-cycle for him to get sufficient data, and he said just barely.
The technician disconnected and detached all of the monitoring equipment and left the room. I took a shower, got dressed, packed up my gear, and was shown out of the sleep center.
Once all of my data was processed, I had a follow-up appointment with the sleep doctor. The sleep doctor informed me that I have sleep apnea, and that I needed to remedy that by sleeping with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
This diagnosis meant that I had to return for a second night at the sleep center, to determine what CPAP machine air pressure settings would alleviate my sleep apnea. Oh joy.
The second visit was pretty much like the first. Because I had had trouble sleeping the first time, they gave me a room down a dead-end hallway, which had less traffic and was darker and quieter than my first room on the main hallway.
This time, in addition to all of the monitoring equipment, I also had to wear a CPAP machine mask. The mask allows the machine to provide pressurized air through your passageways in order to keep your airway open and provide enough oxygen to your lungs while you sleep.
I had tried on several types and sizes of masks during my follow-up appointment with the sleep doctor, and we had settled on a specific type and size. The technician had this type and size mask ready for me to try the second night, as well as some others if the first mask didn’t work well for me during the second sleep study.
The technician adjusted the mask straps and fitted it for me, then showed me how the CPAP worked. Like many of the newer CPAP machines, the one I used that night had a “ramp” feature that lets the air come through the mask at a lower pressure, and then gradually increases the air pressure to your prescribed setting.
This gradual increase usually takes about 15 minutes, and is supposed to give you time to fall asleep as you gradually adjust to the pressure. If you have not fallen asleep by the time the machine reaches full pressure, and it is uncomfortable for you, you can press the ramp button, which will drop the pressure and start the gradual increase again.
The purpose of this second night was to determine at what air pressure my sleep apnea symptoms would be alleviated. This meant that the technician would try various settings, and then I was supposed to fall asleep and the technician would see if the setting worked.
I got even less sleep the second night than I had the first night. In addition to the awkwardness of all of the monitoring equipment, I now also had a mask strapped to my face with straps that went across my cheeks and over the top of my head. The mask forced air through my nostrils, and the air flowing through the hose made noise. It was nearly impossible for me to sleep with all of this stimuli.
A few times I dozed off and then the machine reached full pressure, which startled me awake. By the end of the night, the technician was frustrated (although he wasn’t rude about it). He said he barely had enough data to be able to calibrate the machine, but called it good enough. None of us wanted to try that again on a third night.
As before, the technician removed all the equipment, and I got dressed and left. I was glad I didn’t have to work the day after the second sleep study, because I was wiped out.
Results: As a result of my sleep study, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and prescribed a CPAP machine for home use. The mask was fitted for my head, the machine’s air pressure settings were adjusted for my required level, and I was told to sleep with this machine every night for the rest of my life.
Do you sleep with a CPAP machine? Have you found a way to make peace with it? Any hacks to make it less awkward? Please share with us below.