CLOSE
Original image

My Sleep Apnea: The Sleep Study

Original image

In last week's article I talked about my initial experience with sleep apnea: going to a sleep disorders clinic and being evaluated for risk factors. After going through that process, I was prescribed a one-night sleep study operated by a local university hospital. In this entry, I'll share some specifics about that study -- if you're considering going in for one, I hope to allay some fears and give you some tips.

First off, what is a sleep study? The technical term is a Polysomnogram, and it's effectively a suite of monitoring tests meant to evaluate a person's physiology during sleep. There's a particular focus on breathing, body movement, and brain waves, as these things are often implicated in sleep disorders. Without getting too technical, the test involves measuring eye moment, brain waves, breathing, blood oxygen levels, a wide variety of muscle movements, snoring, and miscellaneous other things. In practice it means getting a lot of little sensors taped or glued to your head, face, neck, chest, and legs, all with their own colorful wires. Here's a (slightly heartbreaking) Wikipedia-provided picture of a child about to go in for a sleep study:

In my case, the sleep study was held in a modified hotel suite. The university had permanently taken over part of a floor in a local residence hotel, and installed all the computers and other gear necessary to perform the tests and record the results. There was a sort of command center staffed by a variety of technicians, then down the hall a series of patient rooms were where the tests actually took place. The patient rooms were regular hotel rooms with a few additions: a CPAP (sleep apnea therapy) machine was by the bed, a microphone and speaker were above the headboard, an infrared camera looked down over the bed, and a computer network hookup was by the bed for the various sensors to plug into.

When I showed up, the command center was buzzing -- there must have been ten people in there, some of them apparently interns (this is a teaching hospital after all). A medical technician brought me to my room and went over the basics of the test, explained what would have to be hooked up to my head, and had me fill out some forms. After that I changed into night clothes and began the sensor-application process.

Applying the array of sensors can take up to 45 minutes, and it doesn't hurt -- though I found myself saying: "Really? There are more?" several times. In my case they were mostly glued on, using this weird putty that I washed out of my hair in clumps the next day. Sensors were applied all over my face and scalp, and a "snore microphone" was taped to my neck. Sensors were taped to my pectoral muscles as well as my calves, and the wires from those were run up underneath several belts that encircled my chest and abdomen (I believe these belts were also measuring respiration...or maybe they were just belts to hold wires). A pulse oxygen sensor was taped to my finger (note that they didn't use one of those finger clips, which was nice -- this was just a glowing sensor in a protective shell). I was warned not to fiddle with or crush the pulse oxygen sensor, as it was delicate and "kind of expensive." I thought this was sort of charming since the whole affair was running into the thousands of dollars anyway. (Ahem, thank you insurance company!)

After all the sensors were hooked up, the wires were run back to a portable "head unit," a little paperback-sized device that collected the various signals and transmitted them back to the command center. There was also much bundling and taping of wires to prevent me from unintentionally pulling them out in the night. (By the way, if you do freak out and need to remove the sensors, they come off easily. But Mr. Sleep Technician is just going to frown at you.) The import thing to note here is this: with all the stuff attached, you don't have much freedom of movement. Walking around, you must carry the head unit, and going to the bathroom is kind of an advanced operation given the wires running down your chest and legs. It's entirely possible, but you should be careful not to drink a lot of liquids before the study -- to minimize the work and planning involved with lugging all the stuff into the loo with you.

Once connected to everything, the technician led me to my (awesome king-sized) bed and had me settle down on the side by the CPAP. At this point I took a small dose of Ambien, which my sleep doctor had prescribed to help me get to sleep during the study (I had a study years before in which I didn't sleep at all). It was a trick taking a pill, because there were things taped to my face, multiple things going under and up my nose, and so on -- but I managed. (Tip: if you plan to drink water during the night, bring a bendy straw!) When I was more or less comfortably situated in bed, the head unit was attached to the wall, lights were turned out, and the technician left to return to his command center. From there, he proceeded to test every sensor, communicating with me via a sort of squawk-box above the bed. He had me do various things like breathe in and out deeply, blink my eyes, move my eyes, move my legs, and so on, ultimately confirming that the sensors were indeed working. After that, I was on my own to get some sleep. (We had mutually agreed to try sleeping on my back, which for me is the most snore-inducing position. It also happened to be the easiest with all the junk attached to my face.)

Sleep study gear

Above: various wires and sensors, the head unit, and the CPAP machine by the bed. I would have taken a picture of myself with all the stuff attached, but I didn't really want to know how it looked -- I figured it might make me even more self-conscious about the procedure, so I just avoided mirrors.

All hail the power of Ambien! I was out within a half hour or so, which I think is pretty remarkable given the unusual circumstances. I proceeded to sleep for some hours, apparently snoring and experiencing a lot of apnea/hypopnea events all the while. (I later found out that my AHI, which is a sort of score measuring your respiratory interruptions per hour, was 48 -- this is "severe" but I've met people with much higher numbers already. More on this in a future post.)

After some hours of sleep (three or four?) the technician woke me using the intercom, and gave me the "good" news: I was displaying enough apnea/hyopnea events to warrant plugging me into the CPAP machine for the rest of the night and seeing how that went. This was good news because it meant I probably wouldn't have to come back for another study -- they could get me on the machine and figure out an appropriate pressure during that same night (this is called a "split night study"). So I was happy with that. A nice intern came in and removed a few of the gizmos that had formerly been sticking up my nose (I believe they were some sort of breathing sensor). He then attached a plastic mask/cup that covered my nose, and strapped it tightly to my head using elastic straps. If you're wondering what this cup looked like, think of the cups used to deliver anesthesia or oxygen -- same kind of thing, with a big honkin' plastic tube coming out the front, attached to the CPAP machine which is effectively blowing air up the nose.

The intern left, and I proceeded to try to sleep. I didn't have much luck, though, as the mask was strapped on way too tight. It was really digging into my face and began to bug me. After an hour of fruitless sleep attempts, I raised the command center on the squawk-box (which was difficult because talking while the CPAP is running, talking is tough -- air is rushing out your mouth, and there's a sort of Darth Vader Effect). Anyway, I managed, and they came in and adjusted the straps. With a better fit, I was all set, and fell asleep again within a half hour.

I woke a good four hours later, sun coming up, to learn that my study was complete! But imagine my surprise when I came to consciousness and realized that the nasal mask was full of water! Well, not full, but it was effectively raining in there -- drops of water were running down my nose, pooling in the cup, and then draining through the air tube. Very weird. The technician said, "Oh, that's 'rain-out,'" and explained that it was due to the difference in temperature between the room (which I had kept very cold) and the heated, humidified air coming from the CPAP. "It's normal to get some rain-out," he said. "You'll get used to it." I was actually pretty freaked out by the rain-out, as it seemed like maybe it would go up my nose, but later practice has demonstrated that water-up-the-nose isn't a significant concern. (The masks are designed to deal with this condition, and water tends to pool in strategically designed places, away from your nose.)

The technician removed my sensors, which was relatively painless except for the loss of chest hair involved with removal the pectoral pads. I took a shower and washed a bunch of glue and crud out of my hair, then went downstairs for the free continental breakfast (this was a hotel, after all). The technician gave me the CPAP mask I had used that night to keep, as a spare for when I got my own machine.

All in all, the sleep study was fine. I had been worried about a lot of things going in: worried that I wouldn't sleep at all, worried that the CPAP would be uncomfortable, worried that I'd pull a wire out, and so on. While it was definitely a strange experience (both because of the sensors/wires and the CPAP), I feel like the professional staff, excellent setting, and Ambien really helped. Frankly that last part was a big deal -- I'd highly recommend getting a prescription for some kind of sleep aid if you have any worries about getting to sleep. In my case it just zonked me out, which is just what I wanted.

If you're considering a sleep study, please feel free to ask questions in the comments, or post your own experience. We got some awesome comments on last week's sleep apnea post, and I'm really grateful to the mental_floss reader community for your support! Next week: getting the final diagnosis and the CPAP machine.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
5 Tips for Becoming A Morning Person
Original image
iStock

You’ve probably heard the term circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is an internal clock that influences your daily routine: when to eat, when to sleep, and when to wake up. Our biological clocks are, to some extent, controlled by genetics. This means that some people are natural morning people while others are night owls by design. However, researchers say the majority of us fall somewhere in the middle, which is good news if you want to train yourself to wake up earlier.

In addition to squeezing more hours out of the day, there are plenty of other good reasons to resist hitting the snooze button, including increased productivity. One survey found that more than half of Americans say they feel at their best between 5 a.m. and noon. These findings support research from biologist Christopher Randler, who determined that earlier risers are happier and more proactive about goals, too.

If you love the idea of waking up early to get more done, but you just can't seem to will yourself from out under the covers, here are five effective tips that might help you roll out of bed earlier.

1. EASE INTO THE HABIT.

If you’re a die-hard night owl, chances are you’re not going to switch to a morning lark overnight. Old habits are hard to break, but they’re less challenging if you approach them realistically.

“Wake up early in increments,” Kelsey Torgerson, a licensed clinical social worker at Compassionate Counseling in St. Louis suggests. “If you normally wake up at 9:00 a.m., set the alarm to 8:30 a.m. for a week, then 8:00 a.m., then 7:30 a.m.”

Waking up three hours earlier can feel like a complete lifestyle change, but taking it 30 minutes at a time will make it a lot easier to actually stick to the plan. Gradually, you’ll become a true morning person, just don’t try to force it to happen overnight.

2. EXERCISE IN THE MORNING.

Your body releases endorphins when you exercise, so jumping on the treadmill or taking a run around the block is a great way to start the day on a high note. Also, according to the National Sleep Foundation, exercising early in the morning can mean you get a better overall sleep at night:

“In fact, people who work out on a treadmill at 7:00 a.m. sleep longer, experience deeper sleep cycles, and spend 75 percent more time in the most reparative stages of slumber than those who exercise at later times that day.”

If you don’t have much time in the morning, an afternoon workout is your second best bet. The Sleep Foundation says aerobic afternoon workouts can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often throughout the night. “This may be because exercise raises your body’s temperature for about four to five hours,” they report. After that, your body’s core temperature decreases, which encourages it to switch into sleep mode.

3. MAKE YOUR BEDROOM IDEAL FOR SLEEP.

Whether it’s a noisy street or a bright streetlight, your bedroom environment might be making it difficult for you to sleep throughout the night, which can make waking up early challenging, as you haven’t had enough rest. There are, however, a few changes you can make to optimize your room for a good night’s sleep.

“Keep your bedroom neat and tidy,” Dr. Nancy Irwin, a Los Angeles-based doctor of psychology on staff as an expert in sleep hygiene at Seasons Recovery Centers in Malibu, suggests. “Waking up to clutter and chaos only makes it more tempting to crawl back in bed.”

Depending on what needs to be improved, you might consider investing in some slumber-friendly items that can help you sleep through the night, including foam earplugs (make sure to use a vibrating alarm), black-out drapes, light-blocking window decals, and a cooling pillow

Another simple option? Ditch the obnoxious sound of a loud, buzzing alarm.

“One great way to adapt to rising earlier is to have an alarm that is a pleasing sound to you versus an annoying one,” Dr. Irwin says. “There are many choices now, whether on your smartphone or in a radio or a freestanding apparatus.”

4. TAKE THE TIME TO PROPERLY WIND DOWN.

Getting up early starts the night before, and there are a few things you should do before hitting the sack at night.

“Set an alarm to fall asleep,” Torgerson says. “Having a set bedtime helps you stay responsible to yourself, instead of letting yourself get caught up in a book or Netflix and avoid going to sleep.”

Torgerson adds that practicing yoga or meditation before bed can help relax your mind and body, too. This way, your mind isn’t bouncing from thought to thought in a flurry before you go to bed. If you find yourself feeling anxious before bed, it might help to write in a journal. This way, you can get these nagging thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

Focus on relaxing at night and stay away from not just exercise, but mentally stimulating activities, too. If watching the news gets your blood boiling, for example, you probably want to turn it off an hour or so before bedtime.

5. GET YOUR DAILY DOSE OF LIGHT.

Light has a immense effect on your circadian rhythm—whether it’s the blue light from your phone as you scroll through Instagram, or the bright sunlight of being outdoors on your lunch break. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, scientists compared the sleep quality of 27 subjects who worked in windowless environments with 22 subjects who were exposed to significantly more natural light during the day.

“Workers in windowless environments reported poorer scores than their counterparts on two SF-36 dimensions—role limitation due to physical problems and vitality—as well as poorer overall sleep quality," the study concluded. "Compared to the group without windows, workers with windows at the workplace had more light exposure during the workweek, a trend toward more physical activity, and longer sleep duration as measured by actigraphy.”

Thus, exposing yourself to bright light during the day may actually help you sleep better at night, which will go a long way toward helping you wake up refreshed in the morning.

Conversely, too much blue light can actually disturb your sleep schedule at night. This means you probably want to limit your screen time as your bedtime looms closer.

Finally, once you do get into the habit of waking up earlier, stick to that schedule on the weekends as much as possible. The urge to sleep in is strong, but as Torgerson says, “you won't want your body and brain to reacclimate to sleeping in and snoozing.”

Original image
LG
arrow
technology
New Device Sanitizes Escalator Handrails While They're in Use
Original image
LG

If you have ever hesitated to touch a well-used escalator's handrails for fear of contracting some disease from the masses, LG Innotek has an answer for you. The company just released a handrail sterilizer that uses UV light to kill nearly every germ coating the rubber belts, according to The Verge.

As the railings move with the escalator, they pass through the UV light, which kills 99.99 percent of germs, according to tech developer LG Innotek. The sterilizer is placed just before escalator users hop on, ensuring the handrails are still relatively clean when you grab on at the bottom. The device is a little bigger than a regular hand sanitizer dispenser (around the size of a piece of paper) and starts automatically when the escalator begins moving. It runs on power generated by the movement of the escalator.

UV radiation is used to kill super-germs in hospitals (and one company wants to bring it to planes), but it's relatively easy to use on your phone, your toothbrush, or anywhere else in your house. You can already get handheld UV sterilizers online, as well as aquarium-specific ones. In April 2017, LG Innotek released a faucet that purifies water by UV-sterilizing it inside the aerator. However, the fact that escalator railings are constantly on the move makes them easier to clean automatically than subway railings, door handles, and other potentially germy public surfaces we touch every day.

Bear in mind that while nobody likes getting a cold, germs aren't always bad for you. Some types can even help protect you against developing asthma, as scientists found while researching the health differences between Amish children and their counterparts on more industrialized farms. Whether you touch the handrails or not, cities have their own unique microbiomes, and those ubiquitous bacteria are pretty much guaranteed to get on you whether you like it or not. On the bright side, if you are a germophobe, UV sterilization has been touted as a possible alternative to other antibacterial treatments that cause supergerms.

[h/t The Verge]

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios