a woman laying down with wires coming off of her connected to circles depicting insomnia with a tired person, a sleep apnea mask, and restless legs

My Experience With Sleep Studies and a New Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

Eventually, if you have trouble sleeping, you may get sent for a sleep study or 2. I have had a couple myself. They are quite the adventure because if you have trouble sleeping, well, try sleeping during a sleep study! No pressure but you have to sleep, like, now. Okay, now. And, go!

Yeah, my brain doesn’t work that way. I don’t just have restless legs syndrome (RLS). You see, I have had quite the assortment of sleep dysfunction in my lifetime.

My first sleep study

When I was first sent for a sleep study in my late 20s, I had severe delayed-onset insomnia. So I didn’t go to sleep for hours and hours after going to bed. I also certainly didn’t stay asleep all night. Back then, I had mild restless legs, but since I never really slept anyway, it wasn’t my primary concern. I was prone to sleep paralysis often – apparently, from being sleep deprived.

All wired up

So off to a sleep study I went. They sent me to a hospital for the night for the test. It was early in the evening. They wire you up with a hat and connections like you are in some sci-fi movie where they are trying to attempt some experiment to alter consciousness or something. So wired up, you’re afraid if you move, some machine might freak out at you. So you lie down carefully in your little nest of wires and try not to unplug anything.

An early bedtime (for me)

At 10 PM, the sleep study started. I hadn’t gone to bed that early in a long time — longer than I could remember. I’d go to bed at midnight and fall asleep somewhere around 4 AM. That was my pattern. So trying to fall asleep at 10 PM on demand? That was not happening. Certainly not in a nest of wires in an uncomfortable hospital bed and unable to even sleep in a comfortable position.

Nevertheless, I did get some sleep in there somewhere. Enough for them to determine that I had just a disturbed sleep pattern. Quite typical for someone with fibromyalgia. Nothing they could do anything about anyway. Yay.

My second sleep study

Now, I don’t have delayed-onset insomnia. Strangely enough, that was fixed by another medical issue that exhausts me so much I crash at night.

Yet, I needed another sleep study because my sleep was getting strange and more disturbed even though it was better than it ever had been duration-wise.

Restless legs, snoring, and stops in breathing

My RLS was super strength. I was kicking my spouse in my sleep. Not my fault, of course. I started snoring, which I denied adamantly until I woke myself up snoring. Unfortunately, that snoring (that I will deny publicly) was not an issue if I hadn’t noticed waking up not breathing. And waking up not breathing sounded a whole lot like sleep apnea to me. I also started doing other strange things as I fell asleep, like laughing. That was new.

Home sleep study

Now though, you can take home a sleep study kit! And use it in your own bed! As it turns out, it is like this massively heavy device strapped to your forehead and then prongs in your nose. They instruct you to, "Try to sleep on your sides and back." I sleep on my stomach. They say you need at least 5 hours of sleep to get results. I have problems sleeping through the night without long periods of being awake. So it was tricky. I tried to sleep as they suggested but failed. So I just went to sleep as usual. I did manage the minimum requirement of 5 hours. Just.

Adding sleep apnea to my list of sleep issues

The results came in to indicate that I do have sleep apnea. However, it is mild at this point. So I may be able to adjust with just lifestyle changes. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes a person to stop breathing periodically through the night and is usually treated with a CPAP machine. I have several risk factors: family history, asthma, allergies, over 40, and a smoker. Not to mention my recent weight gain due to medical reasons.

RLS and sleep apnea

RLS is found in 8.3 percent of sleep apnea patients, according to 2005 research.1 More recent research from 2015 found in over 1900 participants who reported having insomnia or RLS, more than 30 percent had obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which can complicate their treatment.2

The recommendation is that a sleep study is done. So I am glad I requested one, or I wouldn’t even know I had this issue complicating my sleep, and it would just get worse. The daytime sleepiness from OSA is insane; that alone is a problem I would like to fix.

Lifestyle habits that impact RLS and OSA

  1. Alcohol consumption – Limiting alcohol amount, so moderation and limiting it 3 to 4 hours before bed can help with both sleep issues.
  2. Smoking cessation also could help with both.
  3. Limit caffeine – Caffeine impacts everyone differently but stopping caffeine in the afternoon is generally recommended.

What's next for me?

In my case, another health condition impacted my weight, so my doctor and I are trying to get that under control so I can exercise. Exercise during the morning can help with RLS as well, after all. Losing weight should completely resolve my sleep apnea issue.

However, I also aim to quit smoking. Either way, sometimes we can have more than one sleep problem to deal with. A sleep study can be necessary even to determine that. It can make treatment more complicated, for sure. However, sometimes these lifestyle changes overlap as well.

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