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At Wit's End - Sleep Apnea Without Snoring

by Abigail
(Austin, TX)

I appreciate this site. It shows that more people are taking these problems seriously but it hasn't turned out to be as simple as some of these articles suggest.

I have taken the sleep tests (two of them) and they show'd that I have sleep apnea, in spite of not snoring. That's right. I don't snore. I also was at a normal weight when I was diagnosed. (145 pounds, five feet nine inches tall.) My only symptom was being exhausted and depressed. I used to suffer from sleep paralysis but that stopped when I started taking SSRI's in 1993. (SSRI's are known to prevent sleep paralysis)

I was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2006. I use the C Pap machine every night. Everything should be fine now, right. Wrong. In spite of using the machine faithfully I'm stil experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea and I'm still exhausted. I haven't been able to get a job because I have to sleep up to 16 hours a day. The sleep doesn't make me feel better, in fact I wake up every ten minutes or so gasping for breathe. I have dreams that I am suffocating, begging people to take me to the emergency room. In the dreams I can't get any air. I have every different permutation on the theme of trying to catch a breathe. I wake up and feel the strength come back into my body so that I can fill my lungs. Then I open my eyes and look at the clock. I note that a few minutes have passed and fall back to sleep for the entire cycle to resume.

You write about the sleepiness of this condition. I feel that sleepiness isn't the real problem. It is the feeling of having adrenaline flood your body over and over again as you go through multiple near death experiences each night. It is literally like being in a car crash. You feel shaken and
jittery when you should feel rested and ready to start your day. I developed a heart arrhythmia and I believe it was related to this sleep apnea.

I've seen the pictures showing the person's tongue falling into their throat. I wonder if this is what is really going on though since the C PAP machine doesn't seem to help, nor does using different sleeping positions. I've seen articles suggesting that some central nervous system dysfunction could be causing the sleep problem but what are you supposed to do? My so-called sleep specialist of a doctor doesn't seem to have any ideas, he doesn't even seem to keep up with any of the literature. I've had to do all of the research on my own to find out what little I do know. I cry a lot. If anyone has any info or can point to any places to look for some kind of help I'd appreciate it. At wit's end.

Kevin: Hi Abigail, Thanks for sharing your story. You're right, there are countless personal complexities to the generalized classifications of sleep disorders that we use as a model for understanding them. Your complexities sound particularly unique.

One of my colleagues in Sleep and Dreams a couple of years ago also was diagnosed with sleep apnea without snoring. She was a similar size as you, probably 120 pounds. Very uncharacteristic of the usual person with sleep apnea (being male, overweight, and older are all factors that would increase expectation of having sleep apnea, for instance).

Have you looked into other forms of treating sleep apnea, such as UVVP? My fit, middle-aged uncle had this operation a few years ago, and it took his severe apnea to a much more mild case (although he *was* a very heavy snorer originally).


(Please keep in mind that I am a student of sleep science and not a medical doctor. Please take any thoughts I give with my background in mind.)

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