Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing is disrupted. A pause in breathing from 10 seconds to several minutes is called an apnea, and when this occurs 5+ times per hour, there is cause for concern. Alternately, very shallow breathing is referred to as hypopnea. An overnight oxymetry test can be administered to check for periods of low blood-oxygen levels that might indicate a need for a more comprehensive study called a polysomnogram. These tests measure the oxygen and pulse like the preliminary test, but also measure brain activity, eye movement, muscle activity, and heart rhythm.

Sleep apnea comes in different forms. The most common is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the one we associate with snoring, and it is caused by a true physical blockage of airflow. Less common is Central Sleep Apnea which is actually due to weak respiratory function. The brain’s control centers do not respond quickly enough. It’s difficult to say whether obesity is a cause or a symptom, because the daytime sleepiness caused by lack of restful sleep at night can exacerbate an already sedentary lifestyle. Another important factor may be thyroid function, as low thyroid function can lead to decreased energy levels too. This could be the factor that sets obesity and apnea into self-perpetuating cycle. In order to break the cycle, you will have to tackle all three things at once; get your thyroid regulated with supplemental medication, establish and maintain a regular exercise plan, and in extreme cases you may need to use a breathing mask at night to help you stay asleep and feel rested enough to get through your busy day.

Some daytime problems caused by sleep apnea (besides fatigue) include slowed reaction, vision problems, memory and learning difficulties, attention deficit, mood swings/depression, liver disease, and insomnia or sleep paralysis. Sleep apnea is more common in men, elderly people, and people who are obese, though it can happen to anyone. The problem is usually first noticed by a partner or spouse who has difficulty sleeping due to the loud snoring. Some suggested methods for dealing with sleep apnea and snoring include avoiding cigarettes, alcohol and muscle relaxers, losing weight, and sleeping with your upper body elevated or on your side. You can even do tongue exercises to strengthen the muscles if that is the cause of the obstruction. In severe cases, breathing machines or even corrective surgery may be necessary. A CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure) provides a steady flow of oxygen throughout the night, while surgery involves tightening soft tissue in the airway (tonsils, uvula, and the surrounding tissue). Both can end up being very expensive, so weight loss and other lifestyle adjustments are highly recommended as preventative measures.

Sleep apnea is also associated with heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and auto accidents. If you can prevent or avoid it by simple tweaks like walking, eating healthier foods, or cutting back on drinking, the benefits are tremendous.
You can check out the results of my oxymetry test here.

Nightmares

I’ve got a schedule planned for this blog to give it some structure. Tuesdays will be the scientific/research/medical entries, Wednesday will be the personal subject commentary entries, and Thursday will be a free day for cool dream related stuff I’ve found. I’ll be adding a few more pages to the blog for helpful links and terms used in the blog.

Today is a Wednesday, so it’s a personal subject day. I chose nightmares.

I don’t remember much of my dreams from early childhood, but I do remember the nightmares. They were really simple and symbolic when I was a toddler. Between the ages of 2 and 4, I remember a recurring nightmare that I called “The Eyes.” But they weren’t eyes at all. They were just two spots that sort of floated in the air and followed me around. One was small and black, the other was large and orange. They were positioned like eyes, which I suppose is why I called them that. The dreamscape was usually some sort of newsprint. Black and white buildings, black and white paper cutout people from some era I’d only seen in old photographs. Perhaps the eyes were actually cigarette burns in this paper dreamscape and that’s why they were so scary, but I really felt stalked/haunted by them.

As I got older, the nightmares would have more real fear triggers, like snakes or tornadoes. I was terrified by natural disasters in my teen years. The big movies at the time were all about tornadoes and volcanoes, and a town nearby mine had been devastated by a tornado. I kept imagining how easily one could rip my little house apart and it was a very real concern of mine for years. I also had terrible dreams about monsters and zombies at this time in my life. During the early teen years I was very religious, and I was actually baptized at 14. I was plagued by nightmares several times a week.

During my later teen years, my parents were divorced, and the nightmares weren’t so terrifying anymore. There were some awful subjects, but they didn’t scare me awake anymore. I felt like I could handle them. In one, I actually remember myself dying. That’s something many people believe you can’t witness, but I know several people who have experienced that. I was fleeing from some people who had a Predator with them. I tried to hide in an old abandoned hospital. They found me and asked me “How would you like to die?” I suggested “Old age.” “Not an option!” My next choice was to be injected with something from the hospital, which they did. I saw myself sitting on a table, the needle go into my leg, and as my body fell back, I was suddenly watching from darkness above. There was nothing. No feeling, no light, just nothingness. It wasn’t scary. It was peaceful, like this was the most natural state of existence. I thought “Okay…what now?” Then I woke up.

Other nightmares involved the deaths of people close to me, but I actually woke up crying when I had nightmares of my pets getting injured. Around this time, I wasn’t going to church anymore and my spiritual interests turned more toward witchcraft. This continued into college. Infrequent nightmares and nothing so bad I couldn’t face the problem in my dream.

After leaving a bad relationship, for nearly the entire duration of the next serious relationship, I would have nightmares that my ex was back, but I would violently attack him and often wake up frustrated that all the yelling and hurting I could inflict wouldn’t make him go away. After entering the third serious relationship, the nightmares stopped. Nightmares now only involve separation from my important people from which I will sometimes wake up crying. There are other dreams that I would call “bad dreams” with some absolutely disgusting elements, but very rarely do I have nightmares anymore. At this point, I wouldn’t say I’m devoid of spirituality. I feel a great spiritual connection to the universe, but I experience it as an extension of the sciences.

Upcoming topics for this blog: REM sleep, time-lapse video sleep study, chemicals of sleep, and lucid dreaming.