I had 400 breathing pauses in one night

Photo of an older man at sunset
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Joachim, 63 years old

"The difficult thing about this disorder is that you don’t notice it. You get used to being extremely tired in the morning and needing three cups of coffee to wake up at all. It becomes a habit. And you also know that you are going to feel weary at times."

For many years I was very tired during the day and had no energy. Because I had a job where I did physical work, I could usually compensate for it a bit. But when I was at training seminars or had monotonous jobs to do, I often just fell asleep.

When I was 38 I had my first . This completely threw me off track. But after hospital treatment and rehabilitation I went straight back to work. I was very career-oriented at the time and was eager to get back to work as quickly as possible. Then another blow came – I was 40 years old at that point. I had an anterior and was admitted to the intensive care unit. When I fell asleep there, pauses in my breathing kept setting off the alarm. The ward physician noticed it and observed me that night. The next morning he said to me: ‘I know what you’ve got. You probably have sleep syndrome’, and he briefly explained to me what sleep is and that I would have to be examined in a sleep laboratory.

I let it slide and didn’t do anything about it

But sleep laboratories weren’t that common then. After I recovered from my heart problems I wasn’t able to go back to my old job so I retrained. But I still hadn’t been to a sleep laboratory, and my sleep still hadn’t been treated. To tell the truth, I let it slide and didn’t do anything about it. I kept on saying ‘I’ll go next week’. The difficult thing about this disorder is that you don’t notice it. You get used to being extremely tired in the morning and needing three cups of coffee to wake up at all. It becomes a habit. And you also know that you are going to feel weary at times. So you keep moving during the day to try and avoid it.

When I had my third , the senior physician who treated me in the hospital was also a sleep specialist. She too talked to me about a possible sleep . As soon as my hospital got a sleep laboratory, I got an appointment there.

During the first night the doctors just took a variety of measurements. First of all they wanted to find out whether I really had sleeping . That night I had 400 breathing pauses. That confirmed the suspicion: I have sleep . Pretty bad sleep in fact.

Because of my heart disease, the doctors were a little worried. This is why, the next night, they wanted to observe me in the intensive care unit. That’s where I first used a machine. It was an absolute nightmare. It was blinking, buzzing and all sorts. There was no way that I thought I was going to be able to sleep with that next to me. When they put the mask on me and pressurized it in the intensive care unit, I thought I was going to suffocate. I had to get used to the different breathing rhythm that is supported by the machine. At first I felt a bit panicked with the breathing mask on. But I was so exhausted that I finally fell asleep. I slept really badly because the mask was quite annoying. But at six o’clock in the morning the night was over and I felt well-rested and fit!

I quickly worked out how to breathe with the machine

The doctors gave me the machine to take home. At home I first of all sat down on the sofa, put the mask on, turned the machine on and did some breathing exercises. Because I was awake I quickly worked out how to breathe with the machine. I particularly noticed that it made it easier for me to breathe and that I didn’t have to take such deep breaths anymore. The machine supported my breathing. Since then I haven’t slept without the machine. I always use it, even when I take an afternoon nap. When I go to bed, I put on my ‘snorkel’. I have been using these machines for 16 years now. I even have two of them at home. I travel a lot and also have a very small machine, which even fits into a briefcase.

I also use it on vacation – I can’t sleep without it anymore! When I had an operation, I also had the machine with me in the recovery room. Right after the operation the anesthetist gave me the mask and turned the machine on. It is important for anesthetists to know that their patient has sleep , because patients with sleep can react differently to narcosis.

The machine can sometimes make your mouth feel dry, I’ve had that too. To avoid it I now sleep with an air humidifier. The humidifier moisturizes the inside of your nose, so that your mouth doesn’t feel dry in the morning. A dry mouth can be unpleasant and wake you up.

But many people with sleep do not need an air humidifier. Machines without an air humidifier are much easier to use. You don’t have all the hassle with hygiene. You have to change the water in the humidifier every day, clean all the tubes, clean the humidifier and wash the mask, because germs can collect there. I have developed a kind of routine for looking after the machine. I have two tubes that I use on alternate days. Over time you find out what works best and then get used to it.

The machine is very quiet. These devices used to be very noisy, but not anymore. My wife says that it doesn’t disturb her sleep. My breathing pauses at night used to disturb her a lot more.

I felt an immediate effect

The mask only bothered me at the start. I needed some time to get used to it. The amazing thing about the treatment was that I felt an immediate effect. After my first night using this machine I felt reborn. Before starting the therapy I was always extremely tired. I felt more exhausted in the mornings than in the evenings. But the treatment made this disappear overnight. I didn’t mind whether the mask felt uncomfortable or caused other problems, because the therapy gave me a whole new lease on life. It makes me feel great.

I think it is important for people with sleep to keep up their treatment. You have to get used to the therapy, and especially older people find it hard to deal with at first. If you can’t handle the machine or are not sure how to use it, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your doctor or go to a self-help group. They often talk about things like that in self-help groups.

Acknowledgment

Our real-life stories summarize interviews with people who are affected by the medical condition. Our interview partners have given us permission to publish their stories. We would like to express our sincere thanks to them.

The real-life stories give an insight into how other people cope and live with a medical condition. Their opinions and comments are not recommendations by IQWiG.

Please note: The names of our interview partners have been changed to protect their identity. The photos are of models.

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Updated on February 11, 2014
Next planned update: 2021

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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