Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Sleeping analysis

I met with a sleep technician today and we went over my sleeping record.  I was diagnosed with Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome, which is related to apnea but not the same thing.  Mine is not terribly severe and I will be seeing a doctor about it soon.

But that wasn't today's business.  After listening to Prof. Heller discuss the science of sleep, I grasp the fact that I have spent about ⅓ of my life in a state about which I know very little. 

I understand that sleep is essential and that I need about 6.5 to 7.5 hours a night.  I realize that when I am sleep deprived, I get sleepy.  Heller made it clear that enough deprivation will increase the need for sleep to the point that I can't resist it.  I could fall asleep at the wheel of my car while I am driving, endangering myself and others. But I wanted to see the record of my night of sleeping and a sleep technician showed it to me and went over its parts.

The complex record of me while sleeping is a "polysomnographic" one, which basically means a lot of information about a sleeping person. What I was shown, on a computer monitor, was very much like the one shown on this Wikipedia page.  In addition to graphs showing many different sensor readings, there was a video tape of me sleeping in a bed. The video seemed a little boring but later, the technician showed me a little bump in one of the readings.  She said that bump showed I moved my leg.  Then, she moved the video to that spot and the amount of leg movement was very small.

There are two main tools for correcting sleeping problems that I have heard about, a "CPAP" and a "dental appliance".  CPAP stands for "continuous positive airway pressure" but it comes down to a mask that blows a strong enough air stream into the nose with the right amount of pressure to get the right level of air into the lungs.  The dental appliance is essentially a mouthpiece that resembles one worn by boxers or other athletes to absorb blows to the chin and protect the teeth.  A sleep dental appliance is designed to hold the tongue and jaw in a way that will keep the airway open better. I had a test night at home wearing a glove with some sensors and a computer on it.  Some sleepers feel something strange like that and pull it off during the night without realizing they are doing it.  Similarly, some sleepers remove a CPAP machine while sleeping.  

But what interests me is the many things I do while sleeping that I am not conscious of, normal healthy things that are part of good sleeping but that I was never taught and didn't need to be.  It is a wonder to me that my critical mind, my memory, my judgment and other parts of me that I know take a hike every night.  I don't become an inert stone while sleeping.  Instead, I conduct all sorts of activities that I don't know I do.  Getting more serious about understanding sleep puts my picture of myself and who and what I am in a new and different light.

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