On Friday morning, I went to the OSU Sleep Clinic (part of the Ross Heart Hospital) for the latest round of finding out why my sleep has been so lousy these past few months (if not years). This wasn’t my first time at the rodeo–I have a diagnosis of sleep apnea, and have had sleep studies in the past, but I have never been able to use a C-PAP.
Yes, they’re uncomfortable. My problem came from obsessing about them when I did use them. Did I fill the reservoir full enough? Was the seal on my mask secure enough that it was not leaking air? Since I thrash around so much in bed, would I pull it off the night table and ruin it?
Before the exam, I filled out a three- or four-page questionnaire about my sleep habits, my health history, etc. The two doctors who spoke with me said, in addition to sleep apnea, I have hypersomnia and possibly cataplexy as well.
The important thing, though, is not that you fall asleep too often, or how long you remain asleep. It’s the quality of the sleep. The best analogy I can provide is that falling asleep should be like scuba diving. You don’t jump in and go straight to the bottom, and you don’t sprint up to the top when you want to surface again.
If I sat still and relaxed in a quiet room, I would bet 10 to 1 that I would be asleep in less than five minutes. The sleep is not refreshing or restorative, either. I have slept past my stops on the bus many times. What I found most disturbing was that I can fall asleep and go straight into REM sleep, and with this comes dreaming.
This resulted once in a truly frightening moment. I was in such a state that the dream I was having actually overlaid what was happening at the moment. If you’ve ever seen one of those really thick medical reference books, you’ll remember that they have a section of transparent plates showing the different systems of the body. Flip one plate, it will show the skeletal system. Another one will show the circulatory system, and so on. This was how the dream was for me. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was hallucinating. My pediatrician had prescribed thioridazine (which was withdrawn by the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. in 2007) for me when I was in first grade, and I began to wonder if my parents had never told me that I had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. My bipolar disorder is mostly under control, and the mood swings have occurred less often than they have in years, so the idea that I may have schizophrenia scared me half to death. In context, it was a relief to know that it was the symptom of a sleep disorder.
Steph and I have joked that my snoring is so bad that we have to sleep separately–with her in Florida. I denied for years that I snored, until I awoke one morning to find my girlfriend at the time holding my microcassette recorder. “I want to play you something,” she said. She rewound the tape and hit PLAY, and there it was: me, snoring. It sounded like a chicken bone stuck in the garbage disposal.
As a teenager, I may have caused some of this on my own. Especially on weekends, I tried to avoid sleep as much as possible, mainly because the late-night hours were the only time I could truly have solitude and “me time” to my heart’s content. My parents learned the hard way that trying to pin me down to a bedtime was a losing battle. Starting in about eighth grade, I was usually awake almost entire weekends. I would read, listen to music, watch TV, or write. To make this possible, I had squirreled away milk money to buy No-Doz at the local pharmacy (and occasionally shoplifted it as well). I would not be focused enough to do homework, but would usually be able to read at least two books.
I also became an armchair critic of B-movies, courtesy of WSAZ-TV’s All Night Theater and the venerable Fritz the Nite Owl on Channel 10. There were also many nights when I would still have the TV on after the station had played the national anthem and gone dark for the night.
Working third-shift jobs was a way to channel this constructively. I worked the graveyard shift typesetting The Harvard Crimson, as a rescue clerk at the Cincinnati post office, and as a data transcriber at the IRS in Covington, Ky. (In the latter two jobs, there was a 10% bonus for working third shift.)
So a fresh sleep study is in the works. I’m spending the day before Thanksgiving at the sleep lab at OSU East. (And my immediate worry is that it is at the beginning of the home stretch of NaNoWriMo! Glad my priorities are focused where they should be.) I guess I have to learn to perform before an audience. It won’t be easily to fall asleep knowing there are a few video cameras immortalizing the proceedings, and, even though I have been through sleep studies in the past, I can never get used to the idea that I’ll be able to doze off with wires and leads all over me. (I had a taste of this in August, during the night I spent under observation at Riverside Methodist Hospital.)
Right now, it is near 2 a.m. The bars will be closing soon. I cannot honestly say that I miss that milieu, but the streets tonight are quiet. I haven’t even heard any sirens. The Buckeyes’ football game was in Maryland, so there aren’t as many people wandering around the campus area and our neighborhood (which is to the immediate north) in various states of inebriation. It is Saturday night-Sunday morning, so many people are still awake.
And I am among them.