His And Her Sleep Apnea

I have been a long-suffering wife putting up with JavaDad’s sleep apnea.  He often forgets to put on his CPAP mask or sometimes manages to snore in spite of it.  Imagine my mortification when I shared a hotel room with a girlfriend while at a conference and she told me I snored and made strange noises in my sleep!  I made several excuses at first — I have a cold, Sudafed would take care of it, yadda, yadda.  But when she started flinging pillows at me in the middle of the second night, much like I would at JavaDad, I realized the situation was far worse than a simple stuffed nose.  As we would be traveling together frequently for several conferences over the next year, and since I knew I was already battling insomnia, after discussing the issue with my doctor, I quickly made an appointment at a local sleep clinic.

I was surprised, when I posted about my pending appointment on Facebook, how many of my friends wanted to hear about the details about the process as they suspected that either they had sleep apnea or that their husbands did.  So I decided to put my reporter’s hat on and document the journey.

Now my husband had painted a pretty grim picture of his experience — he was diagnosed in 2002 and described his sleep lab as quite clinical and uncomfortable — a white room with a bed in it.  So I had my doubts when the person on the phone for 1st Class Sleep Clinics in Centreville told me that the experience would be much like checking into “a very nice hotel.”  After all, the address was essentially an office building with a Dunkin Doughnuts on the ground floor. 

My first impression was when I walked out of the elevator and was greeted by a welcome sign.

Nice touch.  But it still looked like an office building, until I rounded the corner. 

 Oh, perhaps  not quite like where my husband went!

For a sleep-deprived mother, the bedroom was frankly, more like a retreat.  Room darkening shades, a Sleep Number bed, DirectTV on a wall-mounted TV, and remotes for absolutely everything, including the ceiling fan and overhead light.  If it weren’t for the ceiling mounted camera (to watch you sleep) and the speakers and microphone on the nightstand (so the technicians can record any snoring and communicate with you), it would be easy to imagine you were on vacation somewhere.

The staff was exceedingly polite, everything was “Miss JavaMom” this and “Miss JavaMom that.”  They brought me water and made sure I was comfortable in every way possible.  I certainly never receive this kind of service at home!

Of course the vacation scenario illusion was spoiled when they had me watch a DVD about sleep apnea and how a CPAP machine works.  Then they came in and applied various sensors to my body — some to my head with a rubber cement-like substance (do not plan on going straight from the sleep lab to any important appointments the next day — you will need to go home and do some serious scrubbing to get that stuff out of your hair!), some pads to my chest, and some to my legs.  They then applied then hooked these sensors up to various wires which were connected to a portable box that I could take with me to the bathroom if I needed to during the night.  (Yes — I had pictures of this, but there is only so much humiliation I will put up with for my readers!!)  I wore my own pajamas and climbed into the bed, where I settled in for the first part of the study, which was to observe how it was I slept and how often I would snore or stop breathing (which is what sleep apnea is — actually interrupted breathing.)  Even with the odd sensors, it actually wasn’t too bad.

Although they had hoped to do both parts of the study that evening, it took a while to gather all the data they needed (it is hard for me to fall asleep for one thing).  But I was diagnosed as having severe apnea — waking up briefly 32-35 times and hour and apparently stopping breathing for as long as 2 minutes.

It took me a while to return for my follow-up study, the part where they observe you while you sleep with a CPAP machine and test different sizes of masks due to scheduling issues, but I finally returned at the end of May.  Unfortunately I returned the night of a horrific thunderstorm so the TV was in and out, I had a bit of a cold so I wasn’t feeling great to begin with, and it was a bit of a chaotic night in the lab as they were training someone new, there was a child there being studied for night terrors, and being on the top floor, the sound of the rain banging on the roof was a bit distracting for me.  I slept with a mask on that night, but I have struggled with adjusting to the mask since having it at home and am trying out JavaDad’s mask as well (they are interchangable) and have emailed the clinic to see if I can try a few others out at home.  I do think I sleep better during the hours that I can keep the mask on, but I haven’t made it an entire night with it on.  I’ve spoken to many people newly diagnosed with sleep apnea who find that it is difficult to adjust to the mask.  I will continue to persevere, however, as sleep apnea is not only annoying to your spouse (take it from me!) but can be detrimental to your health — it puts a strain on your heart and your circulatory system.  A benefit of sleeping with the machine is that it has a built in humidifier, with heat if you like, and since I am prone to sinus infections, this actually helps me on the nights when I have a stuffy nose.

Having duelling CPAP masks in the bedroom has brought about humorous moments.  Our kids have always seen JavaDad with his mask, so when they saw me wearing one, they thought I had co-opted his!  A very indignant JavaGirl started telling me to return the one I was wearing to Daddy right away.  Once she saw him put on his, she realized there were two.  Then when she saw my mask was smaller than his, she grew quite concerned, first thinking his had shrunk, then decided his must have had a baby!  I periodically catch the children in our room, playing with the masks on and giggling hysterically as the air automatically comes on.  But my favorite mental picture is what would happen should a burglar ever invade our home and come in and see both of us with our Darth Vader-like masks on, with the slight hissing noise in the background.  I figure that ought to be enough of a sight to send someone screaming out the door!


Photo credit:  CPAP mask image is from the Philips Respironics web site.   All other photos are my own.  I received no compensation for mentioning 1st Class Sleep Clinics — but many friends were interested in where I went and I did receive excellent service there.

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  1. I want to sleep at the nice sleep clinic all by myself. That looks lovely.

  2. Wow, nice. I think I went to a sleep clinic like your husband’s. It wasn’t nice at all. But I found something that works, and I’m amazed by how much better I sleep.