Sleep Apnea: An Unexpected Diagnosis

Elena N K., Cornell College

I was hanging on a steep cliff, barely hanging on, my fingers slipping one by one from the ledge. My heart was beating at thousand miles per hour, or so it felt. Finally, unable to hold on, I fell and kept falling further and further until I hit the cold water and began drowning since I couldn’t swim. I didn’t struggle but just drowned, falling, this time slower, through the water. I felt my back touch the bottom of the sea and at the sensation I woke up.

I’ve been having dreams like that for a while now. They were mostly about me drowning in some body of water. What was even worse is that it felt real too; I woke up feeling like I really did drown that night. I rose from bed feeling exhausted. This became problematic especially on days when I had to attend school. Sometimes it was so bad that I could barely pay attention in class. As a result, my overall academic performance has suffered, to my dismay and the disappointment of my parents. In fact, on bad days it would really get to me and I would come home not only tired but also stressed. Finally, my parents took me to a child psychologist hoping that it would help me concentrate on my school work and possibly curb my distressful dreams. Though I felt better after my sessions, I continued to struggle and to feel worn out before the day would even start.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have also been acutely self-conscious about my loud snoring. In fact, it was embarrassing especially when I would be invited to sleep overs or girls’ nights. I would usually decline the offers or make up some excuse to get out of it. As a result, I sometimes felt left out. This furthered my negativity. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. After all, I couldn’t be a good student or a good friend. Very soon I slipped into depression.

My bleak life crawled on until one of my mother’s friends suggested that I participate in one of the sleep studies that specifically evaluated people affected by sleep apnea. I never heard that term before and I was skeptical from the research I’ve done. I did not fit the usual criteria for a typical person with sleep apnea. For one, I was sixteen and not at all the typical 40-60 age range. Also, I was not obese at the slightest and have always been within my weight range. Finally, I have never noticed that I stop breathing during the night. The only possible indicators were my snoring and my unbearable exhaustion the next day. However, at the point where I was, I figured that going for a sleep test wouldn’t hurt.

To my surprise, it turned out that I stopped breathing at least 100 times in an 8 hour period. It all became clear then, why I have been having dreams about drowning and why I felt so tired during the day. I also found out why I have not fit the usual sleep apnea criteria. My airway is narrowed because my jaw bone is set back farther than normal, which led to my difficulty breathing during the night. I was then prescribed a continuous positive air pressure machine or CPAP
, which has quite honestly changed my life. My school work improved since I could now pay attention in class and not worry about being tired throughout the day. This has ultimately allowed me to apply and get into a good college where I could continue and expand upon my academic success. Knowing that I have sleep apnea and getting treatment for it has also helped me feel better about myself and my life overall. Surely, the CPAP machine can be cumbersome to put on sometimes but I got used to wearing it over time. Nevertheless, one thing that probably will never change is my annoyance at having to explain to people why I need to wear a machine when I sleep.

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