I believe in the power of sleep…a regular night’s sleep that lets me wake up the next morning and be myself. I give myself easily 7-8 hours of sleep each night…or that’s what I thought I was getting. Actually, my body was up all night, struggling for breath. I have obstructive sleep apnea: my upper airway collapses (or is blocked) during sleep, and I am “woken up” multiple times throughout the night as my body tries to save itself from a low-oxygen state.
Although I must have lived with sleep apnea for some years now, it all came crashing down on me when I moved into a college dorm. My allergic rhinitis (to just about any allergen) flared and the swollen tissues in my upper airway caused sleep problems. It didn’t even take a week before I started feeling the fatigue…I didn’t realize then that I was lacking my all-important sleep. I had to fight the sleepiness in lectures. I began constantly popping candies/gums/mints, tapping my feet, or moving some other body parts to keep myself awake during classes—not because I was disinterested, but because my body was asking for sleep.
I should have known better at that point because that is not at all like me. Learning is my love, and I’m always looking for challenges. Not even being sick could keep me away from school. I was always full of energy and in high spirits…my high school principal used to tell me to “slow down and enjoy life”—that is, if he could catch me between all my AP and college courses and running off to music lessons out-of-state. I kept a busy 17-18 hour-a-day schedule and graduated a year early at the top of the class.
But now, I was falling asleep while standing in front of the sink trying to brush my teeth. My web-buddies started calling me “flumper” for the sound of my passing out on the bed or the keyboard in the middle of our chats. Soon, even I could tell that my sleep was disrupted; I would wake up with any little noise in the dorm (or the bathroom next door). And when I came down with the flu and upper respiratory infections, the only way I could get any sleep at all was to sleep sitting up in bed.
Then, exactly one month ago, my parents caught an NPR segment on Kids with Sleep Apnea. I went on a web chat with the sleep specialists that afternoon…it was a “Eureka!” moment. Later, an ENT doctor confirmed the sleep doctor’s suspicions when he found my nasal passage to be nearly blocked by swollen tissues and a small and crowded upper airway. When he sprayed my nose with a powerful decongestant to have a better look inside, he gave me the best side effect ever…I had the most wonderful 6-hour sleep that night!
The next morning, I actually felt GOOD waking up, full of energy and HAPPY! The slow-motion, out-of-focus, frustrating world around me was all of a sudden in focus again. I could think clearly and have my words ready at my fingertips; I was no longer worried about losing track of conversations or talking to people. It was the difference of night and day. I don’t just believe in the power of sleep—I know the power of sleep…it’s something I won’t be taking for granted again.