To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

When I was a kid, I could remember my dreams with such vividness and detail that my parents thought I was making them up. They were mostly happy, or at least thought-provoking, but I did have two recurring nightmares. In one, I was in the back seat of the family car plummeting into the Narrows from the Verrazano Bridge, and I had to kick out the windows to save myself and my younger sister, then we were swimming, swimming, swimming to reach the surface . . . and I always woke gulping for air. In the other, I stared out of the floor-to-ceiling windows in the old Jones Beach Restaurant facing the ocean and watched in horror as a massive wave came to drown us all – again, waking with a gasp.

Nowadays my dream recall is nowhere near what it was, and I don’t gasp when I wake up, but I suspect I spend most of my so-called “sleeping” hours snoring and breathing in fits and starts, because when I wake up at a reasonable hour in the morning – say, at 7 a.m., usually prompted by the pressure on my bladder, when I probably SHOULD just stay up in order to have the most productive day possible: go for a power walk, maybe, or do some yoga, or, gods forbid, WRITE SOMETHING – more often than not I feel utterly exhausted. All I can think about is crawling back into bed when I return from the bathroom.

Four or five years ago I had a sleep study done by a pulmonologist who diagnosed me with sleep apnea, thanks mostly to my being overweight (and top-heavy at that). When I would lie prone in bed, my neck is so thick that it would force the soft tissue in the back of my throat to collapse while I’m sleeping — ergo, I stop breathing, which means I’m not getting enough oxygen and I’m not getting enough SLEEP.

The sleep study itself was so uncomfortable and counter-restful that I’m amazed they were able to get any data at all. For starters, when I went for my initial study, I had a terrible head cold and was coughing and congested, so breathing was even more difficult than it normally would have been. Then, they covered me in sticky electrodes with wires coming out, which in turn were hooked up to a console, which sent zig-zaggy waves to the observer who was assigned to watch me all night. If I had to pee (which OF COURSE I did, because I’m old and I also drink too damn much soda), I had to buzz for the observer guy to come in so he could unhook me from the console, and then I had to carry all my wires into the bathroom, being careful that none of them fell into the toilet (which wasn’t as easy as it sounds). I also have a long-standing bad habit of falling asleep with the TV on, mostly for nightlight purposes (although I have it on a timer to turn off after a few hours), so it was weird for me to not have my normal routine.  I was certain I hadn’t slept at all.

But evidently I had produced sufficient data for the doctor to analyze, because he advised me to buy a C-PAP machine. In order to prepare me to use it — and presumably to assess its effectiveness — they had me come to the clinic a second time and sleep (or, more accurately, TRY to sleep) with the machine on to see if it helped with the apnea.  So now, in addition to the electrodes and the wires, I was hooked up to the C-PAP machine.

For those who aren’t familiar, let me tell you about this lovely device.  The C-PAP – short for continuous positive airway pressure – effectively forces air through your nasal cavity and down your trachea to keep your airway open. But it is incredibly cumbersome: There’s a noisy water unit that makes bubbling sounds, and then a too-short tube that connects the water unit to the mask that goes over your face. Some people have the full mouth and nose mask; I just had a nose one. For someone like me, who’s a side sleeper and a tosser-and-turner, flip-flopping myself and my pillows all night to get to the cool side, the C-PAP machine would regularly wrap around my head and pull free of the water unit.  Even the rhythm of my breathing took some getting used to, as I had to learn to relax to prevent my mouth and throat from closing up involuntarily.  As you might imagine, while the air being pushed into my nose might have helped me to breathe, the whole crappy C-PAP set-up did nothing to improve my restfulness.

As if the awkwardness and unmanageability of the unit weren’t hassle enough, it was also a pain in the ass to clean. The water – distilled, of course – was supposed to be changed every day, and you had to clean the tubes and the mask every other day. Who has the time??

Despite paying over $300 for the stupid C-PAP machine (insurance helped, but it was still a lot), it wasn’t long before I stashed the unit in its handy-dandy traveling case (yeah, like I would ever TRAVEL with that thing!) in my bedroom closet, where it fell victim to Superstorm Sandy and was never replaced. Good riddance.

Since that time, I’ve lost a little bit of weight, but not nearly enough. And since I sleep alone, there’s no one around (other than the creatures, who aren’t talking) to tell me if I’m snoring excessively or if I stop breathing during the night. The only evidence I have that I still may have sleep apnea is that god-awful tiredness and lack of desire to leave the bed. The dogs and the one cat (Raven) who share my mattress aren’t in any hurry to get out of the cocoon either, even in the summer when the cocoon can get awfully warm and sweaty in my non-air-conditioned bedroom. (A good old oscillating fan can only do so much.)

Sure, it could be the sleep apnea. But, on the other hand, this also sounds an awful lot like depression to me, although I’ve never been officially diagnosed.  Despite being well aware that I have no choice but to start my day, and admittedly being more awake than asleep at that point, and having a multitude of creatures who require my care and attention, it can sometimes take hours of setting and re-setting my iPhone (which has an annoying robot voice that makes the dogs – my proxies — bark at it in anger) to pry myself out of the sheets.  It’s like this every day, even on weekends when I usually don’t have work hanging over my head. I often experience an inexplicable dread when I wake up in the morning, especially if it’s a day when I have to go somewhere and/or do something, or if it’s raining. Is that depression? It’s clearly a feeling that comes upon me without any intentional act or thought on my part. I can’t control it – or I might be able to eventually control it, if only I had the strength of mind to change such a thoroughly ingrained behavior.

Worst of all, I don’t seem to be able to remember my dreams very well, although I will occasionally retain a snippet, a vague sense of place – usually locales with multiple rooms, like hotels and schools and shopping malls – or an emotion, whether it be joy or sadness or curiosity. I miss my dreams, even the scary bridge and wave ones.

I must confess, though, in spite of the (alleged) apnea and the twice-a-night wee alarm, I thoroughly enjoy my sleep, mostly for the dreams but also because it starts out so peacefully – the culmination of a long and often annoying day, a long “aaahhh!” as I sink into the plushy warm (or cool, as the case may be) cushions. If only the waking gave me as much pleasure!

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