Sleep is for the strong!  Yes, it is what makes you stronger, not weaker.  Without the proper sleep, all the exercise and diet in the world will be for nothing.

A few years back I was diagnosed with Sleep Apnea.  I think this has been this way most of my life.  As I have gotten older, it’s gotten worse, and due to my size, much worse.  I think it runs in my family and I believe my father had it, but was never diagnosed.  He would snore so loud that he could wake me up in another room with my door closed.

I found a good doctor, and in the fist minute of meeting him, he looked at my throat, then my neck and looked at my tongue.  Yes my tongue.  He said it was off the scale for tongues.  Which meant that when I sleep on my back, my tongue rolls back and cuts off my breathing.  This is what makes you snore.  So, even if you aren’t heavy, and snore, it’s a pretty good bet you have sleep apnea.  Smokers have it even worse.

He suggested I get a sleep study.  This means I go to a special medical facility and they hook me up with wires for all my vitals and I go to sleep.  Technicians monitor me all night until about 6am.  They then wake me up the next morning and I go home and they analyse the data.  “Glen, you have severe sleep apnea.”  At least now I know why I was tired all the time.

The next step is I go back again, but this time they hook me up to a “CPAP” machine or “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure” machine which uses a mask you wear over your face that forces your airways open while you sleep.  I do the overnight study again and WOW what a difference.  I wake up the next day and don’t feel exhausted.  Night and Day.  Usually by the middle of the afternoon I would want to crawl in to bed because I was so exhausted.

Now I sleep with it every night.  Wearing a mask in bed can be a pain in the ass, true, but it’s worth it.  The mask is confining and can cause nasal and sinus issues (important to clean this thing often), but if it means I can function normally through the day, then I’ll accept the trade-off.  It’s usually pretty quiet, but can be annoying sometimes.

Traveling with a CPAP machine can really be a pain.  In Europe the thing would not work right because of the voltage difference, but I have traveled elsewhere in North America and it helps me function on my vacations.

Surgery was used in the past for people with severe apnea, but this is very dangerous and doesn’t always work.  They literally scrape away the back of throat to remove the obstruction, but this can cause more problems than it solves.

One recommendation is to learn to play the “Didgeridoo,” the ancient instrument played by Australian Aborigines.  The act of blowing in to the instrument forces the throat muscles to strengthen and can ease some of the symptoms of sleep apnea.  I’m willing to give it a shot.  (Link)

Why this is important is because sleep affects your health in so many ways and people don’t get enough and what they do get isn’t healthy.  The sleep patterns that the human brain go through in a night are major part of your health.  If you don’t sleep right, your health is out of whack.  Your insulin is directly affected by your sleep as well as cortisol and Human Growth Hormone, which is produced only during the deepest sleep period.

Some scientists also suggest that modern humans do not sleep in the patterns we’ve evolved to sleep in.  Which is short sleep periods with wakeful periods in between.  They call this “Segmented” or “Polyphasic” sleep, and before the invention of the electric lightbulb, most people slept this way.  But now we sleep in 8 hour blocks (if we’re lucky), but in the past, most sleep was a few hours at a time, followed by waking periods.  And then back to sleep again.

So, now when someone says they don’t need sleep, they are just fooling themselves.  “I’ll sleep when I die,” they’ll say.  Well, without proper sleep, that will come much sooner than you think.


WSJ: Decoding the Science of Sleep