By Rav Y. Reuven Rubin
This week is National Stop Snoring Week and it may be an auspicious time to go over a few salient facts. Recently news stories have appeared concerning the almost doubling of a debilitating health condition that can cause death from heart attack, stroke and much more. I wrote about this health hazard ten years ago and want to share some of what I wrote then:
“Sleep apnea is a condition where one never really sleeps restfully at all. You doze off but then awaken immediately. This happens because the airways leading to your lungs collapse in deep sleep, blocking the air from reaching your lungs. It’s like holding your breath, and this can go on for some time. Your body reacts and you come out of the deep restful sleep zone gasping for breath. The scary bit is that the sufferer doesn’t know this is happening, it’s all just below the conscious level.
The classic picture of obstructive sleep apnea includes episodes of heavy snoring that begin soon after falling asleep. The snoring proceeds at a regular pace for a period of time, often becoming louder, but is then interrupted by a long silent period during which no breathing is taking place (apnea). The apnea is then interrupted by a loud snort and gasp and the snoring returns to its regular pace.
All this happens many times an hour and you can spend years never really sleeping. What this does is make you always tired, and I mean always. You stop at a red light and wake up a moment later because everyone is honking their horns. You get so tired in the afternoon that if you’re driving you scream out loud just to keep awake. You are nervous, sometimes irritable, you can’t feel at ease, and always there is the sense of weariness.
Your sleep at night isn’t a sleep; it’s a soundtrack of a locomotive driving through the bedroom. I remember fervently denying snoring at all, and then my little grandson was asked to mimic Zeidy when he sleeps; the little sweetheart started to create such a snore- like racket that I had to double his Afikomen payment just to stop. No, having sleep apnea is not a pleasure, nor is it just a minor problem. It can kill you! Not only because you really can’t stay up all day, but it can affect blood pressure, heart rate, and cause strokes.
However, there is a way to cope with this and I appeal to my readers to take heed. If you find sleep isn’t really restful, or that you are dozing off all the time during the day, seek help now.
I went to my doctor about something unrelated, and in the course of discussions he asked me several questions about my tiredness. He then said “I think you are suffering from sleep apnea and you can be helped.” I soon had an appointment at a local sleep clinic where I was invited to take a nap (how kind) and was hooked up to a few sensors. I then went into my snore gasp routine. After a while they came in to show me a long graph-like paper that more or less demonstrated how I was gasping for breath every few seconds and never really sleeping deeply. Then they introduced me to the answer to my travails, a marvel of science that has changed my life. It’s a small contraption called a CPAP machine and it has allowed me to sleep in comfort. It looks a bit scary, but it does the business. It forces air into your nose via a long tube and face mask, doing so with a gentle pressure that stops your windpipe from collapsing. You sleep, dear friends, sleep, sweet sleep. When I brought my new friend home the first time everyone was amazed. After hooking it up initially, and saying Krias Shema with extra kavanah, I lay down and had what must have been the first night of sleep in ten years. The family thought I wasn’t there; after all, I wasn’t snoring, it just worked so well.
I am now a devoted user of this technologic gift to mankind and I share this with you for a purpose. I have spoken with many experts in the field and I know that there are many folk suffering from this debilitating condition only because they are not aware of it. There is no reason to suffer, no reason to feel tired and irritable all day. This condition can be handled with little in the way of inconvenience and sleep can be had in return. You have no idea how wonderful it is to live life without being always tired after suffering so long without understanding why. I can now live without the daily fight of trying to stay awake during the day, without the disturbed restlessness of interrupted sleep at night. We all have heard of how people we know, fathers of families, close friends, beloved relatives, have died at the wheel for no apparent reason; who may have suffered strokes without ever knowing why, suffering sudden fatal heart attacks, all this and more. I implore you to at least look into this, and maybe some will be helped.”
Well, this was written a decade ago and much has been learned since then. Sleep Apnea is a killer and degrades ones entire life. The problem is that so many just dont act upon what their bodies are telling them. They feel having to be tethered to a machine will be uncomfortable for them and they may feel silly.
I had the zechus to visit the Godal Hadore Harav Kanievsky Shlita a while back. The Tzadik lives in a small apartment and visitors are sometimes taken thru the Rov’s bedroom so as to get into the main reception area. When I visited I saw a CPAP sleeping machine on the shelf above the bed. I asked the gabai about it and he explained that the Rav uses a CPAP machine whenever he goes to sleep.
After my first article appeared several yieden thanked me for pointing out this problem and how it changed their lives. Ten years is a long time, and it’s important to remind the olam of this health warning.
May the whole of Klall Yisroil shluff gezunt and have strength to serve Hashem in good health, with vigor and alacrity.