For the past 20 years, my bedtime routine has included slipping on a mask.
Holy superheroes, I am Batman.
No, not really. After all, the real Batman probably takes his mask off before going to bed.
I’m not unlike 20 million other Americans who suffer from sleep apnea. But unlike many of those, I have chosen to wear the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) nightly. It has become my pacifier for sleep.
I realize now that if the CPAP were never invented, I would have never made it to 60 years old. When I travel anywhere, two things stay close to my side on airplane trips — my computer and my CPAP machine. That’s my lifeline.
The CPAP machine has been so good to me then when I worked with the newspaper in Ashland, Kentucky, I dedicated columns explaining the virtues of what my family lovingly calls “the sleep machine.”
They call it that because ’ol Dad is out like a light once the mask goes on and the machine takes over.
The Maynard family is legendary for snoring, if nothing else.
My grandfather could blow the tiles off a roof and my father was no lightweight when it came to sounding off ZZZs. He went to a convention in Indianapolis one year and his roommate said he dreamed Mario Andretti was racing through the room all night.
So, let’s just say, the lineage is good.
It was in the summer of 1997 that an episode of hyperventilation in a Florida hotel room convinced me that something needed to be done. I went to the doctor and he referred me to a sleep specialist. I was checked out — a night in the hospital where I was hooked up to dozens of wires — and positively diagnosed with sleep apena. They ordered a CPAP machine and after a couple weeks of wrestling with it, the sleep machine was doing its thing — I was sleeping like a baby.
Life became better by the day. I was no longer falling asleep in church, or even at the dinner table. My focus was better, my attitude improved. I even lost some weight and began feeling like myself again. I was so rested.
I’ve traveled to Africa twice, both times with the machine in tow. I also took a battery backup in case the electric went out, which it does frequently at night in Uganda. My travel partners collectively rolled their eyes every time security looked over the battery that, honestly, looked like a bomb. I almost missed a connection because of it last once. I’ve only slept without it three times since getting used to it in the fall of 1997, one of those being on the last trip to Africa when our luggage truck didn’t arrive with us. It was awful. All three times were awful.
CPAP therapy is the gold standard of treatment for patients with sleep apena.
The therapy involves a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth with a device that gently blows air to keep the airway open during sleep.
Sounds pretty simple? It is and it works, or at least it has for me.
A sleep study can help diagnose apnea.
If you’re tired all the time, stop breathing and gasp for air in the middle of the night, snore uncontrollably, fall asleep driving or even when you kick up your feet at night, then you may have it, too.
I’m here to tell you it’s treatable and worth the investment to find out for sure. Ask your family doctor about it.
There’s no surgery or medicine necessary. It’s nothing more than air from the room.
And it works.
After all, Batman would not lie.
Mark Maynard is managing editor of Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org