What Everyone Should Know About Sleep Apnea and Ways to Support Sufferers

This week is the National Sleep Foundation's Sleep Awareness Week® and I wanted to write about ways to help support your friends and family with sleep issues.

What should everyone know about sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea, at the time I was diagnosed, was not something at 19 years old the doctor even thought I had because he told me that it’s mostly older men that have sleep apnea. I think it’s crazy knowing now that there are about 30 million people with sleep apnea in the United States.1

Noticing sleep apnea symptoms

Sleep apnea is when your breathing stops and starts throughout the night. When diagnosed, I stopped breathing over 60 times per hour.

The symptoms of sleep apnea vary from person to person. When they wanted to check for it for me, I was having issues falling asleep, and staying asleep. I would wake up with migraines. I was tired, had no energy, and it was hard to get out of bed in the morning.

During the day, I was always very sleepy. I’ve always known that I’ve had insomnia but when I was young it wasn’t really an issue. I could sleep a few hours and be ok for the rest of the day.

Getting diagnosed and using my CPAP

Sleep apnea can be diagnosed by doing a sleep study. When I was first diagnosed, it was all done in the facility for testing.

When I got my last continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, I already had the diagnosis and I had to start with an at-home sleep study. Once the at-home sleep study was completed, I then had to schedule a time to go into the sleep lab for a sleep study. The study was a split night study so I started off without a CPAP and halfway through the night they put on the CPAP and calibrated it.

When I become a mom, I really tried to use my CPAP because I wanted to be around for my son. It’s a struggle and I’ve quit; but, I always come back and try again.

Sleep apnea can affect all ages

Sleep apnea can affect all ages. My son was diagnosed at 8 years old with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Like mother like son, he had an enlarged adenoid and tonsils that were obstructing his airways while sleeping. However, after surgery, another sleep study was repeated and he no longer had sleep apnea.

When they decided to test my son he was having headaches that weren’t explained by anything else, really loud snoring, trouble staying asleep, and being tired during the day. After he healed from surgery most of these issues went away totally.

Health risks of untreated sleep apnea

Sleep apnea has a lot of risks when left untreated. My doctor really scared me during COVID-19 when talking about the fact that it can increase my blood pressure, and put me at risk for stroke or heart attack.

My pain and sleep correlation

On top of those issues and having fibromyalgia, my pain and sleep are directly correlated. When my sleep is bad or I don’t use my CPAP machine, my pain gets worse.

Ways to support others with sleep apnea

In my experience, ways to support others with sleep apnea include:

Listen before judging

The best way to support someone with sleep apnea is to be a listening ear. We know what we should do even when we don’t do it. Harsh judgment doesn’t make it better. Listening to our struggles is helpful.

Provide distilled water

My family has been really supportive. When I travel and we stay with family, they always get a jug of distilled water and have it there for me. It’s super sweet and 1 less thing to do when we are traveling.

Suggest lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes can be helpful. Suggest going on a walk with your friend or family member, talking up an exercise class, or something fun that could be helpful.

Ask questions

Another helpful thing that people have done is to not assume but to ask questions. When you see someone wearing a CPAP mask it may look funny but it’s nice when people ask us questions.

Offer helpful resources

Sharing resources, like web pages, is a way to support others with sleep apnea. A helpful thing that my friends have done is sending me links to communities of other people with sleep apnea and sleep issues.

Don't be afraid

Sleep apnea can be different for each person, so if you have questions don’t be afraid to ask.

Simple support, don't assume, and listen

Supporting a person with sleep apnea can just be something as simple as keeping a gallon of distilled water around for when they visit. I often feel attacked when people preach about why I should be using my CPAP, or why I should lose weight and it might go away. Don’t assume you know how to fix it, but be willing to be an active listener and find the best ways to support your friend or family member.

How have others supported your sleep apnea diagnosis? Please share a comment.

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