a college dorm closet with a CPAP machine at the bottom of it

Getting a Sleep Apnea Diagnosis in Your Teens

I had my first sleep test when I was 18. I used to hear from anyone who slept in the same room as me that I was the loudest snorer they ever heard.

When I went for my sleep test it was in a hospital, the room had video cameras hanging off the wall and there was this weird window at the top of the wall where the tech who was performing my sleep study could look down on me. I have always preferred sleeping in a dark quiet room.

I remember thinking there was no way I’m sleeping tonight. Once I got settled the tech came in to attach what seemed like a hundred wires all over my body.  It took some getting used too.  I felt a little like a science experiment.

A sleep study has two parts

This was in the mid-90s, before smartphones. The room had a small hospital sized TV for my entertainment. I watched some TV while I tried to get comfortable with all of these wires attached to me. Once I was ready to “sleep” I turned off the TV and closed my eyes and tried my best to fall asleep.

The observation window was emitting light into my room, so it was not as dark as I was used to. I remember it took me a long time to fall asleep. Now for those who have never had a sleep study, there are two parts.

The first half of the night is sleeping without the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) so that they can determine how many interruptions you have. The second half of the night they wake you up so that they can hook up the CPAP and then determine the level of pressure that you require.

Wearing a CPAP for the first time

Falling asleep with the wires hooked up to me and the knowledge of being recorded and watched was hard enough. I finally drifted off and slept for a few hours. Then the tech came in to get me set up for the second half of the study.

When they hooked me up to the CPAP for the first time was it was an odd experience. I felt like I was a pilot in the cockpit of a fighter jet, kind of like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. This mask was supposed to assist me in breathing more efficiently while I slept, however, trying to fall asleep for the first time with it on was very claustrophobic in my experience.

Before I started using a CPAP, I always slept on my stomach. I found it very difficult to get used to a new sleeping position because the mask was so big. I remember that I kept taking the mask off so that I could catch my breath.

It took me a few hours to fall asleep with the CPAP. After what seemed like an eternity, I must have drifted off long enough for the sleep tech to find the correct pressure to stop my apneas. The next thing I remember was being woken up again.

I felt more alert the next day

I don’t know if it was my adrenaline or the fact I actually slept without any apneas but I woke up feeling awake and alert. Once you’re awake the process of taking off all the wires from your body starts.

The wires are attached with glue so they use rubbing alcohol to take them off. The most difficult ones to remove are on your head. The glue gets caught in your hair and it took a few extra shampoos to get it all out.  After that, I got dressed and drove home.

I remember feeling more alert that day. That was a good feeling considering I didn’t have a full night’s sleep.

Getting my diagnosis

On my follow up visit with my pulmonologist, he reported that I had 53 apneas per hour. He diagnosed me with obstructive sleep apnea. He wrote a script for a CPAP machine and recommended I use it nightly.

I was 18 at the time and I remember thinking there is no way I’m going off to college with this thing. So my first CPAP sat at the bottom of my closet.

If I could go back in time...

I wrote this article not to discourage but to give you an idea of an 18-year-old’s experience and thought process.  I am now 43 years old and if I could go back and talk sense into my 18-year-old self, I would demand that he started wearing the CPAP right away.

You’ll learn in future articles what a difference the CPAP has made in my everyday life.  Also, I have had several more sleep studies and they have improved over the past 25 years.

I am excited to be part of this community.  I hope my stories will help you in your sleep apnea journey.

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