Last year I posted an ad on an online dating site. I was pretty serious about my goals: I wanted to meet someone serious and have a serious relationship. So I took the application process seriously. I answered a bunch of random multiple choice questions and I wrote narrative responses to the required ones. I told complete strangers—some of whom I’d meet, and others whom I’d never even know read my profile—all kinds of things about myself. I told them that I love to cook and hike, that I write and teach writing, and that I have a dog. I made it clear that my life is covered in dog hair, that I’m messy, and that I enjoy Adam Sandler movies.
One part of the application asked, “What is the most private thing about you that you’re willing to admit?” I read through several peoples’ ads before I wrote my own and was really disappointed to see that most dodged the question, or responded with something like “why would I tell you? It’s private!” Which, in my opinion, is quite lame. I went for a different approach. I wrote, “Hi. My name is Kim, and I sometimes wake myself laughing.” It’s true. It’s private because, well, no one was sleeping with me at the time and my dog’s the only person who knew, and he’s good at keeping secrets. And, since no one ever tells anyone their name in the online dating world (because why, exactly?), I figured I’d be different and let everyone know that this is a picture of me and here are several things about me and yes, my name is Kim.
So everyone I met online knew not only the thing that is most public about me; they also knew my odd little “secret.” I’m a weird sleeper; I wake up laughing. I can’t remember a single person mentioning how weird it is that I laugh in my sleep—in fact, I’m certain no one said a thing about it. They were more curious about my dog, I suppose. So I chalked it all up to nothing in particular and moved forward. In the end, I met someone, and, seven months later, we’re still happily together. What I know now is that when I wrote my most private thing, I had no idea just how weird of a sleeper I really am.
You learn a lot about yourself when you share a bed with someone. You learn that you snore or steal the covers or fart in your sleep. I have learned that I talk in my sleep, that I act out my dreams, that I snore (and quite loudly sometimes). And recently J told me that, from time to time, I stop breathing in my sleep.
The first few things in that list were unsurprising. I’ve never heard anyone talk about how peacefully their bed partner sleeps. Instead we like to tell each other stories about how miserable our bed partners make us. We steal each other’s covers and we kick each other and we wake up and go to work and go about our day, completely oblivious to the fact that our poor, sleep deprived partner is trying her best to make it through the day with a sore throat because she got too cold during the night. But to hear someone say that you stop breathing in your sleep—that’s pretty concerning. I consider breathing to be one of the most important things we do, so it’s a bit upsetting that I’m not doing it as much as I should.
I still wake up laughing from time to time, and sometimes I can hear myself snore. But (except for J’s report), I’m not at all aware of the fact that I stop breathing in my sleep. What I do know is that I wake up tired and go through my day tired and often can’t wait to go to bed. I can also tell you that my memory is shot. Between these two things, I find I’m often spending my days trying to stay awake or trying to remember what I was doing or what I was about to do. It sucks. It really, really sucks.
Over dinner a few weeks ago, I talked to a friend of mine who has sleep apnea. I told her what J said, and she asked me some questions. Do you wake up with headaches? Yes. Do you snore? Yes. Are you tired all the time? My god, yes. She pushed her burrito aside, leaned across the table and stared me dead on. “Get a sleep study done. Now.”
Everyone I’ve talked to about this has said the same thing. It’s sleep apnea. Go in for a sleep study. They’ll wire you up and watch you sleep and then they’ll tell you that you’re a miserable sleeper and they’ll give you a mask to wear when you sleep and it’ll be all better soon.
The first step, of course, was to get a physical. I usually procrastinate, especially when it comes to doing important things like getting my oil changed, going to the dentist, or getting a physical. But this time around it wasn’t a tough decision to make. Get this taken care of. Now.
And, just as we all expected, during my physical my doc told me that I probably have sleep apnea and that I should get a sleep study. She gave me a referral to a clinic. I made my appointment and completed an online survey that asked all kinds of questions about my health, and my family medical history, and what my bed partner (yes, that’s a real term, apparently) says about how I sleep. I started to feel like I was looping. Do you wake up with headaches? Yes. Do you snore? Yes. Are you tired all the time? My god, yes.
A couple weeks later, I found myself in the office of a sleep specialist. I took Jill with me. While she doesn’t remember much about my online ad—especially the part about laughing in my sleep—she has witnessed quite a bit of the laughing, and an assortment of other strange behavior. I answered the same questions again, and J helped fill in the blanks where I couldn’t. He confirmed everyone’s suspicions and taught me a few things I didn’t know. For example, I don’t have much room in my mouth. I still have my tonsils, and apparently I have a large tongue. Apparently the combination of these features creates obstructions, which leads to interrupted breathing. So my body realizes I’m not breathing and it jerks me awake and I start breathing and fall asleep. And that—from what I understand, anyway—is why I wake up tired.
I also learned that when you take a sleep study you are wired from head to toe. I’m not sure how this will work to anyone’s advantage. Given all I know about how I sleep, I am quite certain that I will either harm myself or the expensive equipment during the study. It seems enough that I’ll be in a strange bed, in a strange room, wired from head to toe. From what I understand, though, I’ll either be videoed or watched somehow. I am not comfortable with any of these things. But, again, I am willing to give it a shot.
On Monday night J will come over and take care of my dog and they will peacefully in my bed. Without me. I’ll be a few miles away at a sleep clinic, wired head to toe, trying to sleep.
I imagine that one morning, a month or two from now, I’ll wake up with a mask that will surely make me look like something akin to a bionic elephant, and I’ll feel rested. I am sure on that morning J will wake up before me and see the masked redhead beside her and she might have to go in the other room to calm the dog who’s afraid of who his mom has become. But it’ll all be okay, because I will have slept through the night as I should sleep. I’ll go about my day and I’ll do everything I want to do the way I’m supposed to do it.
I can’t tell you how exciting that all is for me.