Results of my Sleep Study

July 12, 2009 · 19 comments

As I wrote about in my last post, My Visit to a Sleep Clinic – Overnight Sleep Study, I recently participated in a sleep study to determine whether I had sleep apnea. I ended that post in the morning waiting for the doctor to discuss the results. If you want to know a little more about participating in a sleep study you should check it out.

Despite having only 3 patients in the sleep clinic that night it took the doctor awhile to get to me. I wiled away the time in the morning watching a little television while propped up in a wonderful Sleep Number bed that moves into all sorts of positions. It also had a head and foot massager but I didn’t like how much noise it made so I didn’t use it.

Finally, the doctor came in and introduced herself. She told me that the detailed report of my stay would take a day or two to compile but she had preliminary results that she could share with me.

She started by saying that the technician had observed “moderate snoring” which was really no surprise to me - actually if there was a surprise it is that it was characterized as “moderate.” Then she proceeded to explain what an apnea episode is, which I will summarize by pulling from this article:

People with OSA experience recurrent episodes during sleep when their throat closes and they cannot suck air into their lungs (apnea). This happens because the muscles that normally hold the throat open during wakefulness relax during sleep and allow it to narrow. When the throat is partially closed and/or the muscles relax too much, trying to inhale will suck the throat completely closed and air cannot pass at all. This is an obstructive sleep apnea episode.

A cessation of breathing must last 10 seconds or more to be called an apnea. Obstructive apnea episodes can last as long as two minutes and are almost always associated with a reduction in the level of oxygen in the blood. When an individual is in the midst of an obstructive sleep apnea episode, as long as sleep continues, the apnea continues. It is only terminated and the victim’s life is saved by waking up. This arousal instantly increases the activity of the muscles of the tongue and throat muscles that enlarge the airway. The victim will be able to breathe and to once again fill the lungs with life-giving oxygen. This cycle may be repeated hundreds of times a night while the sufferer has no idea it is happening.

And then came the verdict. According to my doctor I was observed as having more than 35 apnea episodes in the first hour I was asleep, and if they hadn’t started with the CPAP machine at that time she said I probably would have had 45 or 50. 35 apnea episodes is the number they use to classify it as being severe sleep apnea, so clearly when you don’t even finish an hour of sleep before you can be classified with serious sleep apnea that you have a major problem.

The second point my doctor made after telling me that charming news was that during the apnea episodes my blood oxygen levels were going down to 80%, which apparently is just as bad for you as it sounds.

The good news is that she said that after getting on the CPAP machines I no longer was snoring, I no longer was having apnea episodes and my blood oxygen levels stabilized to wherever they are supposed to be. In effect, I had a restful night of sleep after using the machine. Well, restful as long as you don’t include the technician coming in and adjusting the sensors periodically!

So this is truly a good news, bad news scenario. The bad news is that I have a potentially life threatening problem. The good news is that I was able to diagnose that I thought I had it, and then followed through to treatment by getting a doctor referral and a visit to a sleep clinic. The bad news is this mask is not the funnest thing to be wearing every night. The good news is that it is possible that if I can get into shape that I may not have to wear it anymore.

So while I have always had good reasons to get in shape that I have apparently ignored perhaps this one will be it - the realization that if I want to live as long as possible that I either need to wear a CPAP mask for the rest of my life or get into good enough shape that I possibly won’t need it any more. Of course if I don’t get into shape the CPAP machine is only going to help with my apnea, things like heart disease, diabetes, etc are all waiting out there for me if I stay obese.

One of the things I have found is that it is easy to get off the path you have set yourself on. Perhaps the daily reminder of the CPAP review will be enough to help me stay on course.

If you have any of the symptoms of sleep apnea, the primary ones which are fatigue and tiredness during the day and loud snoring repeatedly punctuated by brief periods of silence or choking sounds, then I urge you to contact your doctor and get a referral to a sleep clinic.

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Naomi July 12, 2009 at 8:13 am

Hi John,

Through my work I have had a small amount of contact with people who have OSA treated with CPAP, and I know that some have described CPAP therapy as life changing, as getting a better nights sleep gives them so much more energy, etc.

I hope that this will be your experience too.

Best wishes

Greg at Live Fit July 12, 2009 at 8:53 am

From what my friends have told me, you’ll experience a huge improvement in quality of sleep (and quality of life) by using the CPAP.

One note though. From what they tell me, once you start using it, you won’t be able to sleep without one. My friends who need a CPAP even have to take it camping!

Merry July 12, 2009 at 10:41 am

Yipes! Good news and bad news both. Good for you for getting to a doctor who could confirm your suspicions!

Fat Daddy July 12, 2009 at 10:57 am

It’s good to find out your problems, and then know that there is both a treatment and a potential way out altogether. Good for you John.

Hanlie July 12, 2009 at 4:49 pm

This is scary! I probably have it too… Excuse me while I go and lose some more weight!

Rooster July 12, 2009 at 5:15 pm

It is rare for people to rid themselves of sleep apnea by losing weight. It has been commonly believed that being overweight causes sleep apnea. Now science is beginning to find out that typically the reverse is true: sleep apnea causes weight gain.

Once you understand much of what sleep apnea is doing to your mind and body, you will begin to understand how it is causing weight gain.

If you get a good CPAP therapy working and minimize the number of apneic events, you will find it easier to lose weight. And you should exercise and eat a good diet along with the CPAP therapy. CPAP will allow your energy level and your resolve to return to normal. This will make it easier to exercise and pay attention to what you are eating. It will help cut down on the food cravings.

John, I highly recommend you become a member of cpaptalk dot com. Get involved there, get an education, and ask fellow CPAPers questions. Those good guys save my life.

BTW, since starting CPAP, I lowered my BMI to 21 and have become a fit, trail-running, mountain-climbing, weight-lifting, 60-year old. But I still need my CPAP every minute I sleep.

“Healthy awake, deathly ill asleep.”

Good luck.

Kent Smith July 12, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Good job, John. Most people do not make the effort to seek out help as you did. Keep in mind, however, that should you become intolerant to CPAP, there are alternatives. CPAP is the gold standard, but too often, patients are told it’s either CPAP or nothing at all.

julie July 12, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Congratulations on actually going through with getting your diagnosis, I really hate dealing with medical stuff, as most likely do we all. Hopefully this will give you the motivation that you are looking for. I’ve never heard anywhere else that apnea causes obesity, always the other way around, I would take that with a grain of salt and look for some peer-reviewed studies on that one.

MamaBearJune July 13, 2009 at 9:21 pm

My husband used to snore a lot. Since he dropped 100 pounds, he almost never does. It really DOES make a difference.

yobigmike July 14, 2009 at 2:01 am

Overall, it’s good news. Now you know what it is and what you have to do. I wish I could do the same, but I have to get past this procrastination stage that I’m in….

Don July 14, 2009 at 6:04 am

I feel like I would have a harder time sleeping knowing my sleep was being monitored.

Sadie July 14, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Hey John! Long time, no talk. Sorry I’ve been slacking… I’m sorry to hear about your problem, but I’m glad you’re taking care of it. My husband has gone through the same things, and while he doesn’t have a CPAP machine, he’s still snoring some. He lost about 20 pounds, which helped, so I’m hoping if he looses a little more it will get better. I wish you well with everything!

Salire July 15, 2009 at 8:03 pm

My father was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea and has been undergoing treatment with a CPAP machine. He has lost about 10 lbs without changing any of his exercise or dieting habits which lends credence to what Rooster was saying.

Teresa July 17, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I understand the good news/bad news scenario of your diagnosis after watching all that my mom has gone through. Some times she really hates that machine! But most of the time she is grateful to have a way to get the oxygen and the sleep she needs and to feel better. She was diagnosed in 1987 and her apnea had become quite bad prior to being diagnosed. In fact, had she not been diagnosed I’m certain she would not have lived much longer.

After being on the CPap for a couple of weeks, my youngest brother who was probably 8 at the time hugged her and said, “You are such a much happier mom since you have been sucking that oxygen.” it was funny, but just goes to prove how much of your life and everything about you can be affected by this.

Best wishes

Rooster July 18, 2009 at 11:13 am


Thanks for the anecdotal evidence, but there are also some good studies recently published that show untreated sleep apnea causes weight gain. The studies primarily focus on sleep apnea causing insulin resistance which in turn causes weight gain.

But just intuitively, if you have untreated sleep apnea you are chronically fatigued and this will cause you to be less active in just your routine daily life.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is primarily a problem of a narrow jaw causing a narrow airway. Many thin people have OSA. Weight issues can complicate the problem

It is known that in the last few hundred years the jaw has narrowed in the general population. This has caused various problems such as airway narrowing and crowding of the teeth.

I am curious about what has caused the jaw narrowing. Some propose that the development a few centuries ago of mills which would grind grains very finely led to the problem. Finely-ground grains allowed breads, pastas and other grain products to be consumed widely in large quantities. This products require very little chewing to get the daily calorie requirements. I don’t know if this hypothesis is true and I would like to read some evidence about it. The finely-ground grains have certainly contributed to other problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes.

She-Fit July 19, 2009 at 4:36 pm

My dad uses this machine and it does wonders for him. I have also heard several stories of people getting off the machines from weight loss. Glad that they figured out what was wrong though.

simon (of the big sort) August 10, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Hey there, John. I’m sorry to hear about your problem with apnea. I was diagnosed with the same problem back in 2001 when I had a sleep study done at Mayo Clinic. I’ve only just recently been able to afford a CPAP, however, and things are finally starting to look up. I’m losing weight - down 30+ pounds in the last few months - and making a ton of other changes to my life.

Hope things start looking better for you.

Rooster August 11, 2009 at 8:29 am

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