â€œNow I lie in bed and think of her,
Sometimes I even weep.
Then I dream of her, behind the wall of sleep.â€
My friend is called a CPAP machine.
I have a condition called sleep apnea.
A doctor once told me that any man with a size seventeen collar or higher probably has sleep apnea or ought to be tested for it. I donâ€™t know what the criteria are for women, but anyone who gets up frequently at night likely has a sleep disorder.
I went through about a decade where I obviously had sleep apnea and it was not diagnosed.
I had a terrible time falling asleep and an even worse time staying asleep. I am a late night reader and it was common to find me asleep in the living room with a book sitting on my chest.
I am lucky I am not a late night smoker. I would have burned the house down.
I became a late night eater and a caffeine fiend. I would snack all day and drink massive amounts of soft drinks to stay awake during the day.
I got heavier and heavier. Since obesity is a major contributor to sleep apnea, my rapid weight gain made matters worse.
I didnâ€™t know this. I had never heard of sleep apnea and didnâ€™t know its symptoms. Like most who have sleep apnea, I had no idea that I had problems breathing at night.
I just knew I wasnâ€™t sleeping well.
Finally a doctor I knew on a casual basis (I was helping him implement an employee benefit plan) mentioned that I might want to get tested.
I was lucky to find the right medical team. My (former) wife was a close friend of Kathryn Hansen, who is Kentuckyâ€™s guru of gurus on the concept of sleep wellness. Kathryn arranged for me to be seen by Dr. B.T. Westerfield.
An overnight sleep study showed that I had sleep apnea and I had it bad. The technician wound up waking me during part of the test as she thought I had stopped breathing.
I suspect that if I had not had that sleep study, I would have stopped breathing on a permanent basis long before now.
Dr. Westerfield sent me home with a CPAP machine that looked and sounded like a mid-size vacuum cleaner.
Every night since then, Iâ€™ve put a mask on my face. The mask has tubing attached to the CPAP machine. The machine blows air through my nose all night.
The result is that I sleep soundly. I donâ€™t wake up feeling like I just came off a three day drinking binge. I donâ€™t have to drink a case of Diet Coke every day to stay awake. I rarely get up in the evening and stopped wandering around the house like Kane on Kung Fu.
The actual machine has improved dramatically. The one I own now is quiet and is about the size of a small loaf of bread. Itâ€™s been all around the United States with me.
Iâ€™m glad they improved the CPAP noise factor. There were trade-offs for my sleeping partner. The machine was large and made a lot of racket. On the other hand, I stopped snoring and was a much happier person.
I was also a much healthier person.
Sleep apnea can kill you quickly, but normally kills you slowly. It contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure and gave rocket fuel to my obesity. I stopped gaining weight as soon as I started the treatments.
Not sleeping well made my life miserable. I felt horrible, especially in the mornings, and lived in a constant state of irritation.
I felt happier the day I got the machine.
The people who make CPAPâ€™s ought to put me on the payroll. I constantly push people to get sleep. I can diagnose sleep apnea from a mile away and tell my story to anyone who asks.
For whatever reason, you donâ€™t hear a lot about sleep apnea. People donâ€™t know they have it and many that do donâ€™t treat it properly. They donâ€™t like to fool with the CPAP machine or suspect it might disturb their sleep partner.
There is a concept that will disturb your sleeping partner even more: death.
You are far more likely to live a happier and healthier life if you are treating your sleep apnea.
My CPAP is my companion and friend. Each night as I drift behind the wall of sleep.
Don McNay, who lives in Richmond, Ky., is an award-winning financial columnist for Huffington Post Contributor. You can learn more about him at www.donmcnay.com.