I Meet the Sleep Doc (<i>cont'd</i>)
Three Sleep Problems
"I think you have three problems," he said. "First, from what you told me about your sleep habits, you have a slightly delayed sleep cycle — your body wants to stay up late and wake up late. We can give you tips on how to deal with that.
"Second, as we discussed, you have lost your confidence in your ability to sleep. We can help with that, too."
"But I also think you may have a slight sleep apnea, and this is the first thing we need to deal with."
I was surprised. Sleep apnea, the most common of all sleep disorders, is a condition in which the tissue of the throat collapses, causing a partial or complete blockage of breathing. The block lasts only a few seconds, but as it recurs during the night, it shatters sleep into shallow and unrefreshing fragments.
"You never reach the deeper levels of sleep," said Dr. Clerk, "so you awake feeling unrested."
Sounded familiar. "What tipped you off?" I asked.
"You said you wake with a dry mouth," he said, "which is a sign that you are breathing through your mouth. And you mentioned sleep paralysis, which is an indication that your sleep is fragmented; that you just aren't sleeping deeply enough."
My Romantic Illusions Shattered
There was nothing I could say. For years, I'd seen my sleep woes in terms of epic suffering — you know, I was dark, complex, tormented, a regular old Job of the Sack. But as it turns out, it all comes down to some excessive fleshy matter flapping around in my windpipe.
"But we won't know anything for sure," said Clerk, "until we do the sleep study."
Which will begin in a matter of moments and continue until dawn. When it's finished, I'll have a 6-inch-thick readout of 12 basic sleep functions, which experts here can read like a book. They'll be searching for any breathing problems that might keep me from sleeping deeply. They're coming to wire me up now. Read on for the preliminary results.
By the way, remember the plastic tube I told you about earlier? The one they jam down your throat? Well, they don't do that. Instead, they thread a thin catheter up through the nasal passages, then down the throat and into the esophagus. I'm supposed to sleep that way — the guy who can't sleep if the cat's breathing too loud.