Catching a snoozzzzze

While it may sound tempting for people with sleep apnea to try Rip Van Winkle’s approach of following a group of well-dressed men into the mountains, partaking in their games of bowling and offering of beverage, and then falling into a deep slumber for 20 years in order to get a good night’s rest, it probably isn’t the best approach. There is, however, a machine that helps with breathing that people with sleep apnea have found successful.

About 10 or 12 years ago, Mark Hamilton, retired teacher and businessman in Minot, realized he’d been having trouble sleeping. He took a sleep apnea test, but decided that he could live with the issue. It became worse, though, and Hamilton said he always felt fatigued, so went in for another sleep apnea test. He was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea about two months ago and has been using a continuous positive airway pressure machine as therapy.

The CPAP machine increases air pressure in the throat so that the airway doesn’t collapse when you breathe in. The machine typically includes a mask that covers the nose and/or mouth and is worn each night while sleeping. It is the most effective non-surgical treatment for sleep apnea, as well as the first treatment choice and most widely used.

Hamilton said he has friends who also use the CPAP machine and they encouraged him to try it. He was determined to make it work the second time, which it has.

“The results are astonishing,” he said. Before using the machine, Hamilton would get about three hours of sleep each night. He’d get up in the morning after tossing and turning all night and then want to take a two-hour nap not much later in the day.

“People told me I looked tired,” Hamilton said. “I was finding the need to take a nap in the afternoon and I just attributed it to getting older.

“I don’t have to take naps anymore.”

Camilla Jechort, registered respiratory therapist at Keycare Medical, said 99 percent of making the sleep therapy machine work is right between the person’s ears. “You determine if you’re ready.”

Before using the CPAP machine, Hamilton said he’d have to roll over about six to eight times during the night. Now, however, he only rolls over once or twice. “My wife said I’m not snoring anymore and she’s very happy about it,” he said.

Hamilton’s case is pretty typical, Jechort said. The success rate is higher if the person wants to sleep better, she added.

“You don’t have to be tired,” Jechort said.

“People think feeling tired is a natural part of life, but it’s not,” Hamilton said. Having always been active in outdoors activities like hunting and fishing, using the CPAP machine has continued to help him pursue his lifelong interest of the outdoors.

Jechort said a lot of people keep the fact that they have sleep apnea under the table. There are over 3,000 people all over central and western North Dakota who are cared for at Keycare Medical for sleep apnea, she added. There are people using the CPAP machine who are anywhere between the ages of 2 and 98.

The process of getting a CPAP machine isn’t so complicated. A lot of times it starts with the person’s primary care physician asking how well he or she is sleeping at night. If there is a problem, the patient undergoes a sleep study, someone like Jechort will go over the results, explain the CPAP machine, and fit him or her for a mask. “We try to call within a week to see how things are going,” she added.

There is some trial and error involved with finding a mask that fits, Jechort said. “As long as people want to make it work, we’ll find a mask that will fit,” she continued. “It’s not one-size-fits-all. We’ll try to accommodate them the best we can.”

Typically, the CPAP machine is electric, Jechort said, and usually has a humidifier to go along with the machine.

The mask is very portable, Hamilton said, and easy to take with you. He plans on taking the mask and machine along when he travels to Africa for a hunting trip in June.

“It’s very comfortable to wear,” Hamilton added, about the mask. “You don’t even know it’s there.”

Hamilton said his message for people thinking about or who are concerned about their sleeping patterns is that it will change your life. “Your quality of life will improve,” he said.

“Don’t be afraid of it,” Jechort added.