My Friend, The CPAP

“Now I lie in bed and think of her,
Sometimes I even weep.
Then I dream of her, behind the wall of sleep.”

-The Smithereens

I have a dear friend who has kept me alive for over fifteen years.

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 don’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 didn’t know this. I had never heard of sleep apnea and didn’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 wasn’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 Kentucky’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, I’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 don’t wake up feeling like I just came off a three day drinking binge. I don’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. It’s been all around the United States with me.

I’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 CPAP’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 don’t hear a lot about sleep apnea. People don’t know they have it and many that do don’t treat it properly. They don’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