Former NFL Star Aaron Taylor Discusses the Importance of Sleep Apnea Diagnosis and Treatment

I must admit that, two months following Super Bowl XLVIII, I’m still flying high from our Seattle Seahawks’ resounding victory.  The win has also served to take some of the sting out of my Kansas Jayhawks’ second-round loss in the NCAA national basketball tournament several weeks ago.

Well, back to sleep problems.  If you’re reading this you probably have heard of a common but under-recognized, under-diagnosed sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea.  This is a breathing problem during sleep, in which one’s upper airway episodically collapses or closes down while asleep.  A study recently published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has demonstrated that sleep apnea is independently associated with an increased risk of cancer, stroke and death, and that apnea sufferers are 4 times more likely to die if the sleep apnea is left untreated longterm as compared to people who do not have the problem. (1)

My wonderful and patient readers have had to put up with my many posts regarding the importance of diagnosing and treating sleep apnea.  Now it’s time to hear from another authority on the subject:  Aaron Taylor, former NFL offensive guard (Packers and Chargers) and now a sports analyst for CBS College Sports.  Recently Taylor was interviewed and featured on CNN’s The Human Factor.  Here he is, talking about his own journey through the discovery and management of his sleep apnea.

http://www.aasmnet.org/articles.aspx?id=4703&utm_source=WeeklyUpdate&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=wu-4-18-14

All too frequently I hear from my patients about their longstanding symptoms of daytime fatigue and sleepiness, loud snoring, and gasping sensations out of sleep, and how something kept them from getting properly evaluated in a timely fashion:  lack of motivation or time, acclimatization to their symptoms, some misconception about the treatments.  However, for many sleep apnea sufferers, treatment can be a total life-changer, resulting in profound improvements in daytime energy levels and wakefulness, a resolution of snoring and breathing pauses during sleep, and, hopefully, reduced risks of developing medical problems in the future.  I appreciate Aaron Taylor’s advocacy in bringing sleep apnea awareness to the forefront.

 

Have a great weekend, everyone!

(1) http://www.aasmnet.org/jcsm/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=29425&utm_source=WeeklyUpdate&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=wu-4-18-14

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To Dream of Drowning

 

It’s a sleep experience shared by many:  awakening abruptly from a dream, wet with sweat, grateful that you’re not actually drowning.

Our recalled dreams often consist of imagery that is unpleasant.  Visual images can range from monsters to some amorphous figure coming after you.  Just as frightening, however, are the formless, soundless sensations you may feel given the place and circumstance you’re in during the dream.

One dream element that I often hear about in clinic is the feeling of drowning or suffocating.  This sensation is described by my patients in many various ways:  the imagery can be very specific, such as swimming in the middle of the ocean, sharks and fish surrounding the dreamer as he or she is slowly but surely pulled under the surface, or vague and nonspecific, such as the general feeling of air escaping the lungs and throat.  The feeling of asphyxiation may be associated with imagery of water submersion, a premature burial, perhaps, or hands or rope constricting one’s throat.  Common to these different scenarios, however, are the terror felt upon abruptly arousing from the dream and substantial relief upon realization that it was a dream.  Sometimes patients suddenly sit bolt upright out of breath, or even jump out of bed and run to an open window to get some air, because the sensation of breathlessness is so intense and uncomfortable.

Such dreams may occur out of nowhere and for no discernible reason.  However, there is a sleep disorder that can often cause people to awaken abruptly from a dream with the sensation of air hunger.  Obstructive sleep apnea is a breathing disorder in which one’s upper airway collapses or closes down episodically during sleep.  One thing that is important to know is that sleep apnea is often made worse in the setting of rapid eye movement (REM, or dream) sleep.

There are a couple reasons why this is the case.  We humans naturally breathe more erratically during REM sleep.  In addition, during REM sleep most of your body muscles are temporarily paralyzed (otherwise we’d all be in bed physically enacting our dreams); under normal circumstances, there is minimal sustained muscular tone while you’re dreaming.  Your airway therefore may be more prone to collapse, and for longer periods of time.  As such, people with untreated sleep apnea often demonstrate a substantially worsening of the sleep apnea during dream sleep:  in analysis of overnight sleep studies, for example, it’s common to see longer pauses in breathing and dramatically more severe blood oxygen abnormalities during REM sleep as compared to during other sleep stages.

So here is my suggestion.  If you awaken abruptly from dream imagery of drowning or suffocating, such that you feel like you had not been breathing or like you were not getting in enough air, ask your bed partner if you’re snoring loudly, gasping, or sounding like you’re stopping your breathing during sleep.  If there are no bed partners or roommates, ask yourself if you’ve awakened hearing a brief snort or with a brief gasping sensation out of sleep, including without preceding recollection of dream imagery.  Also determine in your mind if you have daytime sleepiness:  a tendency to fall asleep by accident while sedentary during the day or to become drowsy when you shouldn’t, such as while driving.  If you’re experiencing such things, you probably would benefit from seeing a doc like me.  Sleep apnea is an imminently treatable problem, and this frightening sensation of dreaming of being underwater usually evaporates with treatment.

Have a good day and stay dry, everyone!