By: Madeleine D
It was like a chainsaw – no, a lawnmower revving – no, a sheet of metal going through a paper shredder. In short, my dad’s snoring was deafening. When my family shared a hotel room, sleep was impossible for a light sleeper like me. Exhausted at 3 a.m., I often debated sleeping in the hallway to distance my ears from the roaring din.
I didn’t know then that my dad had complex sleep apnea. When doctors diagnosed him two-anda-half years ago, I had never heard of it. As far as I knew, the only sleep disorders were insomnia and narcolepsy. I soon discovered I was wrong. During that summer, my dad spent two nights in the Emory Sleep Center, hooked up to wires while doctors studied his breathing. His ApneaHypopnea Index was 140, a whopping high number usually reserved for people over 400 pounds. He was scarcely breathing while he slept. This prevented him from REM sleep, the deep sleep that everyone needs in order to function. My dad was starting to show signs of sleep deprivation: drowsiness, bags under his eyes, forgetting to do daily tasks. His sleep apnea could’ve taken years off of his life if left untreated.
In the beginning, my dad was confused about his diagnosis. Sleep apnea typically affects overweight or obese men over 40; my dad was in this age range, but his weight and health were normal. Luckily, my dad started using a CPAP machine. He didn’t like it at first. The mask made him look like a sleepy version of Batman’s Bane, and he had to skillfully maneuver around the machine before he felt comfortable. After a few weeks, though, my dad felt the CPAP’s effects. His morning headaches stopped, and he no longer felt drowsy while driving. For the first time in years, my dad experienced true REM sleep.
Transitioning into life with the CPAP was not seamless. My dad was embarrassed to carry the CPAP on overnight trips, and my stepmom wasn’t crazy about the strange new mask on her husband’s face. Before he treated his sleep apnea, my dad was a light sleeper who woke up whenever my stepmom got out of bed or had a bad dream. With the CPAP machine, he didn’t wake up at these small disturbances anymore, which my stepmom at first found disconcerting. Despite these small hurdles, both of my parents quickly realized that the machine’s benefits far outweighed superficial qualms.
My dad is not ashamed of his sleep apnea. With the aid of the CPAP, my dad can avoid a slew of cardiovascular issues, as well as depression and other ailments associated with complex sleep apnea. With an estimated 80 percent of Americans suffering from undiagnosed moderate and severe sleep apnea, I’m lucky that my dad found the right treatment. On a typical night, his AHI is now between 5 and 10, just above the normal range.
Now, when my family visits hotels, the familiar whoooosh of the CPAP replaces his raucous snoring. With the help of the CPAP machine and the doctors at the Emory Sleep Center, my dad is finally getting the sleep he needs.