This is part of a series that looks at extraordinary experiences in personal health. Share yours at email@example.com.
I suspected I've had sleep apnea for the past eight or 10 years, but it was only 21/2 years ago that I actually went to a doctor. I finally realized it was serious when my wife made me sleep in a separate bed on a separate floor of our house because my snoring was so bad.
I was typically functioning on three or four hours of decent sleep a night, bookended by one or two hours of just awful sleep. When someone else was in the room, they'd tell me in the morning I was gasping and choking throughout my sleep.
I'm a high school teacher so during the school year, I'm on my feet and running around with large classes. And every day, between 1 o'clock and 2 o'clock, I'd crash. I'd still have an hour or two of school left, followed by a couple hours of marking and prep when I got home, and every day was a battle to make it through. It would be almost a necessity to grab an energy drink or coffee or some kind of sugary snack.
My wife was being driven crazy by my lack of energy, intimately as well as just regularly. I was in a grumpy mood more often than not. I'd be remiss if I didn't say it carried over into work. I was grumpier, moodier, more irritable without adequate sleep.
I went to see my family doctor, who was quick to make a referral to a sleep specialist. And then the waiting began. The closest specialist is in Thunder Bay, which is three hours away and it took about nine months before I got the call to come in. I went to the sleep clinic and I had an assessment and went to sleep with all kinds of probes connected to me. The next morning, the technician told me that I had only 40 minutes of REM [rapid eye movement] sleep during that night. He was horrified I was up and functional the next morning. My response was, "This is every night. I guess I'm just used to it."
There was really no question I needed the CPAP [continuous positive airway pressure] machine, so it was prescribed to me. I had the choice of a full mask or a nasal mask. I opted for the full face mask because the downside with the nasal mask is that if you have any kind of nasal congestion, and you end up breathing through your mouth, the CPAP won't function.
Literally, the first night, there was a noticeable difference. The sleep was magical. The air pressure just kept me from snoring and I fell into a deep sleep. It's absolutely amazing.
It has revitalized my personality. It has re-energized my relationship. It has re-energized my career. I come to work feeling the same energy and enthusiasm I had when I first started. I don't rely on those sugary snacks any more. Combined with better dieting and exercise, I've lost 10 or 15 pounds. Overall, I feel far healthier.
When I go camping in the summers and there's no electricity, which means I can't use the CPAP, I notice a big difference. I wake up with a really raspy throat, my lungs feel dry, my throat is hoarse from snoring and the person who's camping with me is equally tired because my snoring has inevitably kept them up all night.
My wife and I are back sharing the same bed, which is awesome. I don't want to use hyperbole and say the CPAP is a marriage-saver, but it has definitely contributed to a better marriage.
Stephen Wilson, 34, lives in Geraldton, Ont.
Read more stories in this series here.