Last week I saw a consultant to try and work out why I don’t sleep very well. No matter what time I go to bed or what I do to relax, I wake up between 1am-3am most nights and stay awake, plus I get up several times extra because I feel ill, or need to eat or go to the toilet. My average sleep is about 4 hours a night. Sometimes I’m lucky and get 6 hours, other times I get as little as 1 hour.
One of the things the doctor wants to rule out is Sleep Apnea. Sleep Apnea is where the muscles in your throat/air pipe collapse on themselves while you’re asleep, causing you to stop breathing temporarily. Your brain recognises you’re not getting enough oxygen and wakes you up suddenly to get rid of the obstruction. So it’s a two fold problem- you’re not getting enough oxygen and you’re waking up a lot, both which make you feel tired during the day.
It sounds pretty dramatic but it’s not life threatening because the body is clever and wakes itself up. I’m being tested for it because I describe waking up as ‘feeling like I’ve been electrocuted’ and because I wake up so often. The way to test for it is to do a sleep study.
Technology means you can do this sleep study at home, which is good because it’s more indicative of an actual night’s sleep- no one sleeps well in hospital! It does, however, make you look a bit like an ood from Doctor Who… I’m not going to share a photo because it’s possibly the least flattering photo of myself I’ve ever seen!
I had to pick up the equipment from the hospital and have a quick demo as to how to put it on. The consultant told me it would be a sats probe and that was it. Nope, it was a lot more complicated! The easiest bit was the sats probe which you put on your finger, which measures your oxygen level and heart rate. That’s attached to a watch-like thing which records the data. Then there are two small ish boxes- you clip one to the top of your pyjamas so it’s resting on your heart and secure in place with an elastic strap around your chest and the other goes over your diaphragm, also secured by an elastic strap. Out of the top box comes a nasal canular, which is the nose prongs people usually get oxygen through. This is measuring how you breathe though, so no oxygen goes through it, which makes it more uncomfortable. That was the most annoying part for me- I hate nasal canulars even when I actually need them!
Thankfully I didn’t have to push any buttons, the tape started itself at 10pm and stopped itself. It was a bit strange though because the chest pack just lit up with a timer on it, a bit like when people have bombs strapped to them and they’re suddenly activated on TV! The battery warning light started flashing at 2am and it stopped telling me my sats, so hopefully it didn’t die and I’ll have to do the study again.
The recording will tell us whether my oxygen levels drop overnight and whether I stop breathing. Oxygen levels should be 94+ (out of 100), anything less than that and the alarms would be grumbling and flashing if you were hooked up to a machine in a&e. One of my weird endocrine traits is that my o2 sats drop when I’m feeling ill, which meant mine were between 92-96 most of the time because I was already having a ‘weird’ day. That’s not a bad thing though for the test- it might help them work out what’s going on even if it’s not sleep apnea. Obviously I don’t know what it said when I was asleep, because I was asleep!
Sod’s law means that it was one of my better nights in terms of sleep! I only got up 6 times, which is pretty good for me and my symptoms weren’t too bad overnight. There was a questionnaire I could indicate this on though, so they don’t just rely purely on what the tape picked up. I thought I’d find it more difficult to sleep with it, but I’m pretty used to trying to sleep with a nasal canular and sats probe from when I’m in hospital, so it was ok as long as I didn’t sleep on my front and lean on the two boxes. I had to return the equipment in the morning, the hospital will analyse it and decide whether I need to go back to that consultant or whether my GP needs to rethink.
I wasn’t visited by Dr Who to be returned to planet ood (or wherever they come from), but it was definitely one of the stranger tests I’ve done!