Couple sitting asleep at kitchen table with coffee and a bird singing, the husband has sleep apnea

Silence of the Lambs: Sleeping Alongside Sleep Apnea

My husband has sleep apnea. He has both central sleep apneas (CSA) and obstructive sleep apneas (OSA). When he had his sleep study done, it showed 95 apneas per hour that lasted roughly 20 seconds each. That means 95 times per hour he stopped breathing for 20 seconds. That is 1900 seconds without breathing. In every hour he was losing 31 minutes of air.

That seems like a lot to me.

You would think with all that going on, he would have noticed and gone to the doctor but we’d been married nearly 20 years then, so niggly little comments like, “You snore too much,” went unnoticed for a long period of time.

Counting the seconds he didn't breathe

About 11 years ago I started to get really worried about his sleeping. I would lie awake most of the night not just with my own sleep issues - restless legs syndrome and severe insomnia - but listening with wide-eyed attentiveness to his lack of breathing.

I would count in my head every time he rattled a breath in, “One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi,” and 20 precisely timed seconds later he would make that God-awful strangled goat, gargling gasp as he attempted to exhale. Only to do it again soon after. I was always relieved when he finally exhaled. It meant he was still alive.

I would kick him, make him roll over, steal the sheets away, wake him up, and tell him how annoying it was. Then I’d get out of bed and go elsewhere to try and rest.

Not everyone with sleep apnea is obese

Sleep apnea is often associated with obesity, so the fact he was not obese made it seem like he couldn’t possibly have sleep apnea. But I knew he did. I had access to the internet and I had googled.

At my next doctor's appointment, I mentioned my husband would be coming in to discuss the possibility of sleep apnea. I described the cessation of breathing and the strangled goat noises he was making and left it at that. I thought the doctor and my husband could take it from there. They met for the appointment and I don’t know what was said, but it was decided my husband wasn’t fat enough for sleep apnea so he left it at that.

I was not happy.

Two more years of utter exhaustion

He barely got to work each day without falling asleep at the steering wheel. He was having sneaky naps under his desk when nobody was looking. He would come home from work incapable of doing anything but lie on the couch and rest until dinner time. He was completely exhausted.

It took me two more years to convince him to go back to the doctor and insist on a sleep study. A couple of weeks later the diagnosis of severe sleep apnea was made and his life was changed.

After consultation with specialists, he became the proud owner of a BiPAP machine. With a little period of adjustment and finding a mask that suited him, he quickly settled down to some much needed, oxygen-rich, shut-eye each night.

A life transformed

Now he awakes refreshed (my sleeping issues remain, so I am jealous). He drives around with no risk of falling asleep and causing a fatality. He marches through his workday without needing so much as a whisker of sleep, then he comes home and potters in the garden or the shed. The diagnosis and treatment have transformed his life, improved his health, and created a much happier marriage for both of us.

The sound of the BiPAP machine is a gentle, calming white noise and the sound of silence brings joy to my heart. While my nights may still be filled with creepy-crawly restlessness, there is a quiet stillness to the night that is somehow peaceful and soothing.

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