You may remember that I complained of restless leg syndrome a few months ago. I talked to my doctor about it, she adjusted my medication a little bit (the one for anxiety), and the RLS went away for a while. In the meantime, she gave me a referral to go have a sleep study done. Since my legs and feet started bothering me again, I went and did the sleep study.
The study involved spending the night at a clinic under observation from “certified polysomnographers”. These are basically technician/nurse types of people who got me wired up with about 43 different monitors, including sensors to detect jaw and scalp movement (to see if I was clenching or grinding my teeth), sensors to detect my arms and legs twitching, a nasal canula to monitor my breathing, and an EKG to monitor my cardiac activity. I looked and felt like the creature in “Predator” when it was all hooked up.
After sleeping there for the night, I got unhooked and had to wait several weeks to see the doctor for the results of the study. Today was my appointment, and I learned a lot. I learned that I definitely have restless leg syndrome and periodic limb movement–in fact, I had about 25 “events” of limb twitching per hour during the study. That can be minor movements, or it can be those big, spastic jerks where you feel like you’re falling.
More concerning, I had a blocked airway from my tongue relaxing into it and obscuring my breathing between fourteen and twenty times an hour, depending if I’m sleeping on my side or my back. Each time that happens, I have to awaken at some level to correct my breathing. Obviously, I don’t fully wake each time. It turns out that I grind my teeth at night as a way to maintain an open airway. That grinding results in lots of headaches. The most concerning part is that I am not getting quality sleep because of those awakenings. In short, I have mild sleep apnea.
There are a lot of serious medical problems associated with sleep apnea. If left untreated, it can result in stroke, hypertension, cardiac arrest and a lifetime of being much more tired than I need to be. There are some things I can do to help correct it: one, I can wear a CPAP, which is one of those dreadful jet pilot-looking masks that maintain a constant pressure in your airway while you sleep, so that your airway never closes. Another option is that I can get fitted for a sort of mouth guard that pulls my lower jaw forward while I sleep, also ensuring that my airway stays open. Most people choose the latter; I’m not only cursed with a small jaw (which is why my tongue slides back into my airway while sleeping), but I’m a ridiculously bad gagger. Go ahead, make your jokes. Brushing my teeth makes me heave every. single. time. It’s not too fun. So the mouth guard might not be an option–I have an appointment with a specialty dentist who fits these things to figure out if I’m even going to be able to wear the guard. If not, I’ll be getting fit for the CPAP. Jolly.
With any luck, my almost daily headaches will go away. I will have more energy, which would be just amazing. The treatment for the restless leg syndrome is pretty simple: I’m getting tested for the levels of “stored iron” in my blood, which controls the sensations in my legs that make me want to move them. If that comes back as deficient, I take a supplement, though not just the regular iron supplement you pick up at the grocery store. I also have a medication to take that is an anti-convulsant, which will help to remove the sensation that my legs need rapid movement to feel okay.
From what I’ve learned through all of this, I would really strongly encourage you all to think about your sleep patterns and do a little research on sleep apnea. The doctors and technicians, including my general practitioner, have really emphasized how important it is that I am being treated now, rather than 20 years from now. Twenty more years of stress on my heart, the oxygen levels of my blood and brain, and the basic exhaustion from inadequate sleep would almost certainly reduce my lifespan. Read up on it, and if you snore, gasp during sleeping, grind your teeth, or feel like you’re not well rested when you wake up in the morning, talk to your doctor. Do it now, before the problems become cumulative and impossible to reverse.