I am not a very good sleeper. I snore. I wake up several times a night to midnight snack or go to the bathroom. Despite this, I feel more rested than I should, especially since I stopped drinking. For my wife, the biggest issue was my snoring. A couple years ago I talked to my doctor who basically said that I had some larger than average soft tissues/tonsils and that there wasn’t a whole lot he could do. I got a second opinion with the same diagnosis, so I felt that I put that issue to bed. Now my brother has sleep apnea, but is also very overweight.
Two years later, back in September, I started wearing a Fitbit. I was very surprised at what I found when I checked out the sleep log, one of the features of the Fitbit that tracks movement and presumable restful sleep. My restlessness at night was even worse than I thought, many nights having movement spikes showing poor quality sleep for hours a night. Knowing how important sleep is for health, and still hearing my wife’s complaints (and feeling her kicks at night) about my snoring, I started the process of understanding options all over with my new general physician. He too reiterated that I had some larger throat things, but that I likely didn’t have anything like sleep apnea, however, with my insistence we scheduled a consultation with a sleep clinic.
This was all covered under my regular insurance, so I’m not sure the costs of this if you were to pay out of pocket but I’m sure it’s not cheap. After navigating the process with a sleep specialist, I got a home-based test kit (below).
They gave me instructions on how to put it on, plus there were written instructions reiterating all the bells and whistles with this thing. You basically try and sleep normally after looking like this guy (this was just like how I looked, except mine didn’t have the forehead sensors). You have shit in your nose, under your chin, on your fingers, thick chest strap with center computer, and wires everywhere. They measure sleep position, breathing, heart rate, oxygen, if you are having obstructions, noise (audio sensor), and other stuff. The brain ones (that are available at the in-clinic sleep studies) measure REM sleep (the important kind).
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well, but at least I got to sleep in my own bed. And honestly, compared to how I normally sleep, my sleep quality wasn’t too far out of the norm. After I packed everything up, they analyzed the data and I had another appointment where they gave me the results.
The good news was I didn’t have sleep apnea, so wouldn’t need a CPAP, which was a large concern of mine. The not so good news was that I had some minor obstructions (slight pauses in sleep, not full-on stopping breathing) when I slept on my back. That was when I snored a lot too. On my stomach or side it wasn’t really an issue.
They too thought surgery wasn’t a good option for my snoring (4 for 4 in that regard), so we talked about other things that would help with my sleep. Things like sleeping in a dark room, stop looking at screens before bed (reading a book instead), going to bed at the same time. We also talked about ways to promote not sleeping on my back, like wearing a small fanny pack or something like that, with a tennis ball inside so it’s uncomfortable if you sleep on your back. Or elevating my body so things didn’t roll to the back of my throat.
So it’s been a few months. I had purchased on of these foam wedge pillows, which worked ok for sleeping and staying elevated (and even better as a low-cost sex pillow):
On occasion I’ll use this, but more often than not I don’t. The fanny pack thing I didn’t even try, but what I did instead was take two long socks and tie them together with a knot which I placed in my back. That seemed to work well. But really, just being very aware that back=bad and side=good has made a pretty big difference in how I sleep and I’ve heard much fewer complaints from Holly on the snoring. Other things that have helped have been the Hypnos Sleep Aid supplement from Chaos and Pain (it is sometimes on Amazon too), which has natural ingredients like melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium (nothing magical, many have success with just melatonin, but this worked well for me). My doctor recommended that I cycle the sleep supplement (no longer than 10 days on) so your body doesn’t become dependent, and that has worked well, letting me cycle in if my sleep hasn’t been good for a week or more.
Sleep is obviously super important for many reasons, and when we don’t have it, or have poor quality, it trickles over into our daytime lives. I’m glad I did the study if for no other reason to confirm I didn’t have sleep apnea (and to get my wife off my back). It opened my eyes to some of the things I could do to improve my sleep, and those things have improved. I’m still not the best sleeper, and still wake up most nights, but my Fitbit says I’m sleeping more, I feel rested almost every day, and my snoring has been much less of an issue. I’m still working out my sleep kinks, but compared to a year ago, I feel probably 25-50% better from getting more restful sleep.
If you have concerns about your sleep, there are many resources out there, up to and including sleep studies. Don’t be afraid, if you end up doing one, understand they’re a pain in the butt, but could make a resounding difference in the quality of your life if it means you finally understand what your issues are (which could include sleep apnea) and how to address them. Sweet dreams!