It’s one of the most desirable, sensual actions we do. Many of us complain that we just can’t get enough sleep. We are busy creatures, our brains are especially so. Even before scientists proved that our brains use more energy than the rest of our bodies, I think most of us instinctively believed it anyway.
A person can do physical tasks with little or no sleep for awhile. Just try to do some thoughtful thinking or take a calculus exam on little or no sleep. I don’t think even astrophycisist Dr. Stephen Hawking could perform well on little or no sleep.
You can usually tell if someone needs a little extra sleep. They might be groggy or, conversely, crabby. Neither condition is good for critical tasks like operating a nuclear reactor or driving a car. I’ve been known to fall asleep clutching a book or magazine.
For more years than I can recall, I had a chronic problem of suffering through bad sleep. I just couldn’t figure it out. No matter the time of day or night I retired, I’d be out of it and groggy. It didn’t matter if I obtained four, eight, or even ten hours of sleep, I couldn’t get enough of it. I thought it might have something to do with shift work. I’ve worked graveyard shift most of my life. I tried sleeping different hours during vacation times. No difference. Really bad sleep.
Coffee wasn’t just a pleasant, social beverage, it was a crucial ingredient for productivity and living. I knew that critical tasks were risky. I didn’t dare drive more than 100 miles or so without a co-driver alongside for conversation and sharing the driving task. I knew that the majority of humans did not suffer such grogginess as what I considered to be my normal state of consciousness.
I was a young, otherwise healthy guy who was hungry for life’s vitality and experiences. But I was sleepwalking and pretending to be awake and aware. Worse, I was waking up more tired than before bedtime. Frequently I’d have a sore throat and excruciating, debilitating headaches. Often times, it took me several hours with strong analgesics and just sitting to be fit to go to work. I researched every lead about my symptoms from dietary to migraines. Nada!
One day I was fiddling around with some portable electronic gadgets and stumbled across my old Panasonic micro-cassette tape recorder. I had forgotten the recorder was outfitted with a voice-activated feature. Rediscovering the voice-activation, I decided to load fresh batteries and a new tape and place it on my nightstand. Upon retiring, I set up the little machine and drifted off to sleep.
Sure enough, the next day, I woke up feeling like death warmed over. Absolutely dreadful pain. I rewound the cassette and began to play it back. There it was, loud snoring along with gasping, snorting sounds. My suspicions of sleep apnea were seemingly proven correct. I tried the recording a few more times. I had the same results whether or not I felt like hell or was simply out of it.
That’s when I set up an appointment with the sleep lab in Norfolk.
For my appointment, I was to arrive at the hospital right after work when the clinician was to prepare me for study and then observe my sleep. Talk about a boring job! She applied electrodes onto various parts of my body. Head to toes were little blobs of glue where the little wires attached. I climbed into a regular bed and was plugged into a couple of computers.
Even though the room was furnished like a normal bedroom, the presence of the electrodes, the computers, and the observation window behind me was unsettling. I did manage to finally drift off to sleep.
Upon awakening, the clinician greeted me and removed the electrodes. After I dressed in my street clothes, the clinician explained was her opinion that I was suffering from sleep apnea. It is when the air passage becomes obstructed and causes breathing to be critically interrupted. In my case, the tongue relaxed to the point of stopping airflow. Hence the snoring and gasps I heard on my micro-cassette.
I was referred to a pulmonary specialist who prescribed a C-PAP machine for me to wear during sleep. Basically, the machine blows air through a tube, into the patient’s mouth and nose, constantly.
It took a couple of months to become accustomed to wearing a maskand hearing the motor of the machine. I hated the machine, but I loved how I felt after awakening. Sometimes I removed the mask without thinking and would spend the next day with the grogginess and/or headache. Eventually, I trained myself to keep the mask on my face the entire sleep.
The past two years, I’ve been able to wean myself off of the C-PAP device. I now have a reasonably normal sleep life. The only times I feel sleepy upon awakening, is if I go to bed too late and wake up too early. Like today.
I did catch a few bonus winks this morning.
The Blue Jay of Happiness reminds us that the early bird gets the worm. Yuck!