Save your life: This might be a wake-up call

February 28, 2010

On my desk sits a photo of a heavyset man sitting on a hospital bed.

He has wires attached to his forehead, temples, jaw and chin.

More wires snake out through the neck of his T-shirt from front and back, and up from sensors glued to his legs.

A plastic device shaped like a handlebar mustache is glued to his upper lip. It holds electrodes that project to just inside his nostrils.

All the wires come together in a box on his chest. He is wondering how the devil he is supposed to sleep with all this junk hanging off him. He looks like a marionette in distress.

The man is me.

Nothing dire had happened. My doctor suggested that I go to a local hospital and have a sleep study done. So, I did.

If you’re wondering, I slept just fine that night.

OK, a “sleep study” sounds like a joke, but it’s not. In fact, it might save my life.

First, I admit that I snore, just a little bit.

To be honest, my fiancee says that making a sound like a chain saw slicing through an oil drum filled with puppies is not “a little bit,” but never mind.

The thing that really bothers her is the part where I just stop breathing for a bit, here and there.

It doesn’t usually bother me, but then, I’m usually asleep. It worries her, though.

Turns out, there’s a good reason. There’s snoring, and then there’s sleep apnea. It’s a breathing disorder caused either by an obstructed airway, or by a failure of the brain to send the right signals to the muscles that make you breathe.

People who have this condition face various potential health problems, but perhaps the most corrosive is that people with this kind of sleep disorder aren’t really spending the time they need to in deep sleep.

We stop breathing and our brains wake us up just enough to remind us to start again. We don’t usually remember the event, because we don’t usually wake up all the way, either.

According to the National Sleep Foundation in Washington, D.C., studies have linked sleep disorders or inadequate sleep to high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and depression.

A recent poll by the same group revealed that nearly 40 percent of the adults responding experienced daytime sleepiness at least a few days each month.

And I thought it was just the staff meetings!

The foundation says that nearly 50 million adults might be at risk for injury or health and behavior problems because inadequate sleep affects their alertness.

So what?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that driving while drowsy or asleep “causes at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 40,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities each year.”

That’s what. Or one of the whats.

Now that I’ve scared you to death, don’t be. The good news is that this stuff is treatable. From what I’ve read and heard, those who get treatment — for sleep disorders they might not even have realized they had — find themselves more alert and energized than when they were just sprouts.

You can get online and check out the Web site or that of the sleep foundation, at, or you can give them a call at (202) 347-3471.

Better yet, talk to your physician. You might have to do what I did and spend a night in bed wired up like the rear end of a cheap stereo, but it could keep you healthy. Of course, you’ll have to find some other way to get through those staff meetings.

NOTE: I wrote this a few years back to relate my own experience. I received a lot of calls and emails from women thanking me for givning them something they could use to persuade the men in their lives to do the same thing. It seemed a good time to run it again.


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