Person with mouth wide open laying on pillow with swirl coming out of their nose representing a loud snore.

The Sleep Test

As I had written earlier, one of my doctors was worried that I may have sleeping problems. To be honest, over the years a few doctors had mentioned sleep apnea as a concern. When I started seeing a new dentist a year and a half ago, they asked me at my first exam if I had had a sleep test because I have a small mouth, which lends itself to the condition.

Were my sleep problems related to RA?

After procrastinating long enough, I was convinced that I needed to check this issue out. First, there was the history of snoring. But probably the icing on the proverbial cake was my constant feeling of fatigue. It was hard to think my fatigue was anything but severe rheumatoid arthritis. But I had to consider the possibility that bad sleep quality could also be contributing.

My doctor first recommended I sleep a few nights and run an app called “Snore Lab” as a pre-test. The “Epic” level snoring score from the app convinced me that I need to take more measures to get to the bottom of this sleep dilemma.

Setting up the sleep study

I called up a local sleep lab after doing some online research about nearby options. While it is possible to do the testing in the lab onsite, I was happy to have an option where we (actually my husband) picked up some equipment to do the sleep study at home.

Benefits of a home sleep study

The home sleep study was good for me, as I was worried about being comfortable in a strange place and also having the accessibility I require for my physical disabilities (wheelchair). The equipment meant that I could sleep in my own bed, which to me would be more realistic conditions for my nightly rest.

Using the equipment & waiting for the results

The gadgets came with a booklet on how to hook them up. I don’t know if there’s much variety, but mine involved a band that went around my chest and an oxometer on my finger. The equipment would track my oxygen levels and how much I was waking.

More on this topic

The next morning, we turned off the gadgets and dropped it back off at the lab. They would download the data and send a report on the results to my doctor for review and next steps.

Results of the sleep study

Sleep apnea diagnosis

The report on my home sleep test came in quicker than expected, but with clear indications that I have severe obstructive sleep apnea. Basically, I was waking up a lot because my breathing was obstructed and not realizing how much my sleep was being impacted.

For me, I’m guessing the condition is partly genetic (both my parents have been diagnosed) and partly my small mouth and airways, which is also a result of my juvenile RA. Since I also think my small nose passages may be an issue, I’ve also decided to see an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist to see if any treatment for these issues would help.

Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea

The good news about obstructive sleep apnea is that there is treatment. The bad news is that the most acceptable treatment for today means wearing a machine (CPAP) that is trying to help you breathe when you stop. I really didn’t want to have to do this, but I am giving it a try.

Balancing a new diagnosis with lifelong RA

Perhaps it sounds silly, but I have so much already to worry about with lifelong RA. I have lots of medications, therapy, appointments, wheelchairs (and wheelchair maintenance), plus—you know, having a life! I just was resisting so hard the “adding of one more thing.” But I suppose lack of rest and heart damage are things that are bad enough to be concerned.

Trying treatment & other helpful methods

So, I am trying the machine and will shortly see an ENT doctor. I also did some research and read that over time mouth and throat exercises can help with breathing at night, so added this to my daily regime. What the heck, it can’t hurt, right?!

I’m not sure that I’m expecting a lot, but it would sure be nice to feel less tired.

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