I snore. Bad. Everyone knows it.
On business trips, no one wants to room with me.
Yesterday I took a nap, and my own snoring woke me up.
I didn’t used to worry about it. But as I approach 40 years old and start thinking more about my long-term health, it’s become more important to me. Heavy snoring may mean that I have sleep apnea—that I stop breathing at night and therefore never spend much time in deep sleep. That risk, combined with the fact that I often sleep irregular hours and almost never sleep long enough, puts me at short-term risk of fatigue, confusion, and depression. It also puts me at long-term risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart attack.
As an editorial article in Fortune magazine recently put it, “You already know that sleep deprivation is really, really bad for you, but it’s even worse than you think. To summarize, it makes you stupid, depressed, dangerous, unhealthy, and more likely to die.”
There has been a recent crusade for better sleep habits among the huge population of hard-working, ambitious folks who mistakenly think that sleeping four hours a night is the key to success. A few outliers actually do seem to thrive this way. General Stanley McChrystal only sleeps four hours a night and only eats one meal a day. But the vast majority of us need more than that. I know I do. And perhaps most of us would get a lot more done at work and be a whole lot more successful if we slept a little more instead of sleeping a little less (for a great review, see a multiple-episode online special here).
So with my long-term health and short-term productivity both in mind, I went and saw a sleep doctor. Like I always am, I was skeptical about the initial visit. Was it just a way to bill my insurance? Would anything valuable come from the visit? But it turned out to be one of the best spent hours I’ve had in years. My doctor talked to me at length about my work life, my exercise, my diet, my thick neck from wrestling, my family history of heart disease, and what she called my “sleep hygiene.”
I had a vague idea that I wasn’t taking good enough care of myself in this regard. But the detailed interview really brought to light how badly I’m behaving. My sleep habits are probably the worst single problem with my health right now. Much worse even than my love affair with cheeseburgers and Diet Coke.
A couple of weeks later, I took an overnight sleep study to see if we could measure any abnormalities in my sleep. I got to take the test at home (which was awesome), so Wendy helped get me set up in the several straps and lines included in the gear pack. Then I pushed start and promptly fell asleep. It had been a long, long day. I’d worked nonstop. I’d exercised. I’d avoided caffeine late in the day. If ever I was going to sleep soundly, it would be that night.
So, not only do I have sleep apnea. But I actually have severe sleep apnea. That means I’m spending every day with less energy, less focus, and less happiness than I could have. (Which seems crazy since I have a whole lot of all those things!)
It also means that I’m moving down a path to early death or disability from stroke, heart failure, diabetes, or a heart attack.
After I got the results, I called Wendy. We talked about it and I cried for a little bit. I’m grateful to find out and I’m unbelievably grateful for modern medicine and my access to preventative care. But this made me feel old.
Plus now I’ll have to sleep with a CPAP facemask every night so that it can blow air into my mouth and keep me breathing steadily through the night. That just sounds tremendously unsexy.
Wendy, as always, was amazing. She reassured me of how attractive she finds me. So much so that no CPAP mask could come between us. We joked about the energy I’d have and how annoying I’d be to everyone. And then, to my great relief, Wendy suggested a bedtime ritual we could use at night that would still allow us time to read, to talk, to fall asleep snuggling like we do, and still get my mask on afterward.
I married a wonderful woman.
In two weeks, we’ll go get fitted for my mask and the adventure will begin. I’ve gone from worry and frustration to complete joy. I can’t wait to get going on this healthier path. I can’t wait to sleep better and have more energy and focus.
It’s reminded me how important it is that we stay as healthy as we can with the bodies we are given. I’ve reread and reflected on several scriptures, including (and especially) Doctrine and Covenants 88:124 “Cease to be idle, cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.”
Today is the last day of January, and I’ve already forgotten some of my resolutions. Many of them were silly anyway. For instance, I do want a promotion. But that’s not entirely up to me and so shouldn’t be my goal. My goals should be things that make me perform at a level that I deserve a promotion. And healthy sleep hygiene is certainly one of those.
Wendy and I reevaluated last year’s goals and the goals we have been considering for this year. We changed a lot of them around, and we put sleeping at the very top. We need to be in bed by eleven, lights off by midnight. And I need to wear my mask.
Those may not seem like the most exciting goals I’ve ever aspired to. But they are simple and measurable. We can largely control them. And as we keep them, we increase our chances for success and happiness in other important areas.
In fact, if you asked me the most important thing I’ll do differently this year, I wouldn’t hesitate at all in my reply. I’d say it’s to sleep.