OPINION COLUMNS

Dreaming of more restful nights

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My 10-year-old son woke up yesterday morning and announced he had “the perfect sleep.”

His little face looked so rested it really seemed as if he had tapped into some mystical power. He looked so happy.

“What does that mean?” I asked, grinning. His good mood was contagious.

“I went to sleep as soon as I laid down and I didn’t wake up all night, not even once, until you came and got me this morning,” he said. “I wasn’t too hot or cold or anything.”

He’d been battling a nasty sinus infection for two weeks, so sleep had been interrupted by coughing, fever and chills. He had a new appreciation for a good eight hours of rest.

Kristen Tribe

Kristen Tribe

I, too, long for “the perfect sleep.”

I thought I was a good sleeper until my husband informed me a few months ago that, in fact, I was not.

In a monologue of concern and frustration, he told me I did not sleep well the night before. I had snored, my body jerked randomly and he was convinced I had quit breathing at least three times. He had actually counted the seconds between my breaths, which in some instances were alarmingly long, and was already planning to call an ear nose and throat specialist to have me tested for sleep apnea.

I put on the brakes. Sleep apnea? Me?

It’s a condition usually associated with older folks and sometimes those who are overweight. I didn’t fit the stereotype and even the ENT looked doubtful as my husband explained his concerns.

But I had to admit that I felt tired all the time. And I rarely felt rested when I woke up in the morning.

The ENT prescribed an at-home sleep test and sent me away with a contraption to monitor my breathing for one whole night.

There was no getting into this thing alone. My husband helped me strap into it, complete with oxygen monitors, velcro and tubes. It was cumbersome and uncomfortable. Although I was doubtful I’d be able to sleep at all, I eventually drifted off.

I dutifully returned the machine to the doctor’s office and a couple of weeks later received the diagnosis: mild sleep apnea.

Luckily, since it’s mild, the doctor has found ways to treat it without the use of a CPAP machine – a Darth Vader-like mask you have to wear every night. That, I could not do.

But recognizing the problem and starting treatment has resulted in a more rested me, which is a benefit to my husband, kids, co-workers, parents, pets … essentially every living being with whom I interact daily.

It also made me think about my sleep habits and re-evaluate how much I sleep nightly. Upon reflection, I realized my “sleep issues” were longstanding.

I had always snored a little, tossing and turning, and as a kid I walked in my sleep.

As a pre-teen, I had gone to bed one night around 9:30, while my parents were still in the living room watching TV. They were watching the evening news when I strolled in. I didn’t say a word and didn’t answer when spoken to. They watched curiously as I walked around the room, making a lap, and returned directly to bed.

On another occasion, my parents heard a noise in the middle of the night. They got up to find me sitting on the living room couch with the TV on. There was no image on the screen, just “snow.”

“What are you doing, Kristen?” they asked.

I replied matter-of-factly that I was watching TV. Although I don’t remember it, they stood me up and guided me back to my bedroom.

In the months leading up to the sleep apnea diagnosis, I couldn’t stay awake. If I sat down on our couch, I fell asleep. If I tried to read, I dozed off. I had even fallen asleep in the middle of a conversation, while speaking, on more than one occasion.

I began to realize that while my drowsiness had been a running joke at our house, it was something that needed to be addressed. And although the dark circles under my eyes don’t always reflect progress, the “treatment” and increased awareness is making a difference.

I have yet to achieve “perfect sleep,” but I will continue in my quest.

Kristen Tribe is editor of the Messenger.

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