Obstructive sleep apnea causes people to have intermittent blockage of their throat while sleeping at night. This leads to poor quality sleep and even decreases in nighttime blood oxygen levels in severe cases.
One cannot help but have empathy for these patients. All of us know what it feels like to have a poor night’s sleep from time to time, but it is hard to imagine what it might be like to go through life like that day in and day out.
Some of my patients say they are afraid to go to sleep, concerned they may stop breathing and not wake up. The first thing I explain to my patients is that there are many options available. I’m not going to give up on them, and they shouldn’t give up on themselves.
I’ve always struggled with falling asleep. As a kid, I’d lie in bed staring at the trees outside of my window for a long time before falling asleep most nights. To make up what I missed, I’d sleep well into the afternoons on weekends. I never thought to seek treatment for it because this was normal for me, the routine I’d had since childhood.
When I took on the Find-a-Doctor video project, I needed to be at work at 6:30 a.m. a few mornings each month for video shoots with the doctors. I dreaded those mornings because on the nights before, I’d get even more anxious about falling asleep. I’d lie in bed for hours wanting to fall asleep and so mad at myself for not being able.
A specialist from the Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center at Rush came in to shoot his video, and he mentioned that they were recruiting participants for a study on insomnia. The study was testing whether mindfulness meditation in addition to behavioral techniques could help patients with insomnia. I was intrigued: Perhaps those techniques could help me better manage my sleep issues. After completing the screening process, I was told that I could be a study subject because I did, in fact, have insomnia. I’d never had that diagnosis before — a name to call my trouble falling asleep. More importantly, I had the opportunity to hopefully fix it.