Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Yoga: The First Night

When I fully commit to something, I usually don't mess around. So after my last visit to the sleep specialist I decided to enrol in a beginner's course in yoga, the first night of which was last night.

As the hour drew near, I found myself thinking that I'd rather stay home and watch a movie or read a book or play some video games. I was feeling tired as per usual and I started resenting the fact that I'd enrolled in the course. I thought that yoga was a new age bit of wankery that only materialistic Westerners indulged in, etc. This is the kind of stupid thinking I go through when I'm feeling nervous.

All that faded away once I was inside the studio and on my mat, in the front row of a group of about thirty people. What I quickly discovered was that there was no time to think about body image issues or how silly I looked doing the poses or even anything about the world outside the yoga class. I was simply too busy trying to keep up with the instructor.

And she really knew her stuff. She had a smooth, pleasant voice, didn't stutter or mumble, and filled in the empty gaps between poses with general yoga tips. She took us through Mountain, Tree, Child, Boat and Corpse pose, all of which have Sanskrit names that I won't bother looking up just now, but the English names are all very apt. I especially liked Tree and Mountain pose because, for whatever reason, they gave me little tingles of endorphins, and Vishnu knows I need them.

I sweated, I grunted, I did my best to stretch and concentrate on breathing with my belly, both of which I discovered I am terrible at. My legs are as inflexible as a Romanian grandmother (and I know this, because I have one), my nose lets in air like clenched buttocks don't, and my belly can't make up its mind whether it wants to go in or out.

But none of this mattered. I was using my body and it felt good.

The class took a total of 75 minutes, but it felt like a lot less. As we came to the end, candlelight replaced artificial light and New Age music took over from the voice of the instructor (or should that be teacher?). I lay on my back and closed my eyes, trying desperately to forget about the rest of the world as an assistant came round and dumped an eye pillow on my face. She must have seen me flinch, because I heard her warn the next person along.

The music faded out and a gentle gong rang out across the room; once, twice. We all sat up and while the teacher told us the meaning of namaste, the gong fell off its stand and banged against the wall. Normally this would have been cause for a gasp or a small scream, but in our relaxed state, no one seemed to notice, and when the teacher told us to pretend it didn't happen, we had already forgotten about it.

Even though I'm not entirely sure I'll stick with it after I complete the eight week course, my first experience with yoga is definitely a positive one, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the course.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Saga Of Sleep: Part III

(Part I and II).

A few weeks after the overnight sleep study, I returned to the sleep specialist for a diagnosis.

He was a young Asian man with an expensive and modern grey suit, a tasteful wedding band on a manicured finger, and a habit of shaking hands and telling you to call him by his first name. This appeared to be a technique for getting me to feel at ease, to make me feel that he was paying special attention to me and my case.

Yeah, I felt a little like Philip Marlowe, walking into that place.

Once we sat down, Frank pulled out the three sheets of data collated from my sleep study and started taking me through the various sections. Skip the next paragraph if numbers and details make your eyes glaze over.

From a total of 6 hours, I slept 4.7, with frequent arousals, 34 of which were associated with respiratory events. These little lapses are known as hypopneas, which simply means shallow breathing. None of them lasted for more than 30 seconds, and my oxygen levels never dropped below 90%. My brain activity was high throughout the night and my deepest stages of sleep, including dreamtime or REM sleep, were all below par, but still present. Overall, sleep efficiency was down to 78.1%, but maintenance was at a nice and safe 96.1%.

Diagnosis: mild obstructive sleep apnea.

What does this mean? Well, since my sleep for the night was always bound to be worse than normal, the doctor's opinion was that there wasn't much wrong with me. Nothing that losing 10% of my body weight wouldn't fix. He also gave me a nasal spray to try and lessen the shallow breathing. After nutting out some of these details, I asked the doctor for a copy of all the data.

This took a total of ten minutes and a cost of $100. The doctor also said that there was no need for me to visit him again.

I walked out of the doctor's office into the tepid air of the city of Sydney and breathed in the morning pollution. A wave of anger, frustration, and helplessness swept through me. After all that, I still slept like crap and that doctor didn't give a rat's arse if I did or didn't. My oxygen levels were fine and that was all that mattered to him. This sleep problem was my fault, because I'd allowed myself to put on some kilos. My fault because I had bad sleep habits and hadn't put enough effort into setting up a good sleep environment.

My fault because I thought too much.

Not being one to hold a grudge or indulge in excess bitterness (and also never blog about it), I let this feeling swoop through me and move away. There was good news here. I didn't have a serious problem in the shape of life-threatening sleep apnea. I didn't have to spend a grand or so on a bedside air pump and mask. All I had to do was lose some weight, try out this nasal spray for a month, take up some more regular exercise, and see what I could do about my sleep habits and environment.

I won't lie, my sleep problems have affected my relationship, but after telling this news to Mary, I found that she was right on top of things, and that means the world to me. She suggested I try walking with her in the evenings or taking up yoga. She said let's get a new bed, one that will move less. And avoid caffeine, eat better, etc.

Thanks for being there, babe.

So now I've booked into a beginner's course in yoga, at the same place that Mary frequents. We've checked out some futons and have almost settled on one. I've taken the nasal spray as directed for a few nights now and I find myself sneezing or having what I call 'throat hiccups' much less as I fall asleep. I'm trying to develop a better wind down routine before bed, including a cut-off hour for computer related activities (sorry, Mr. Xbox).

I'm not totally convinced that doing all this is going to help. The issue of brain activity is still there, and I'm wondering if there's a touch of Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome going on. But I'm on the case, I've narrowed down some areas to attack, and I'm looking forward to having more energy during the day.

We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Saga Of Sleep: Part II

(Part I).

My sleep study ended up being scheduled the night before my work Christmas party, so in an effort to make it all easier on myself, I took the day off work.

I turned up to the sleep clinic with a duffel bag filled with pyjamas, books (Tana French's IN THE WOODS and Duane Swierczynski's THE WHEELMAN), a pillow, and extra underwear (you never know). After a relaxing check-in where the nurse did her best to sooth my troubled soul with the mention of a catheter, I was led to my room in the sleep study ward.

St. Lukes is somewhere between a hospital and a bed-and-breakfast joint, an older building that isn't the usual hospital maze but is still filled with the expected equipment (and thankfully not the usual smells). My room had a semi-obscured view of the buildings around Potts Point, with a picturesque backdrop of the city to flesh things out.

Not long after settling in, the first assistant of the night showed up to tell me the plan for the stay. First, dinner; hospital style, followed by the initial stage of hooking me up to the equipment. Later in the evening, the final stage of the hookup would leave me semi-chained to my bed, so I was advised to make plenty of trips to the toilet beforehand. So, no catheter, but I did have the option of a bottle if needed.

The first stage of hookup made me feel a little like I was going to one of those hairdressers that specialise in rastafarian-style dreadlocks, although this lot had a decidedly cyber influence. Then I had a couple of hours to kill so I paced around and took some photos. I'm especially proud of my Blue Steel look. Either proud or embarrassed, I'm not sure.

Stage two of my Borg-like transformation saw me hooked up to various equipment that measured parameters such as EEG (brainwaves), EMG (leg movements), airflow, and oxygen levels. At this point I settled in for a good few chapters of IN THE WOODS, which was far less heart-pounding than THE WHEELMAN. Around midnight I wound down enough to switch off the light and attempt to find a comfortable position with cables coming from my head, legs, finger, and nose.

I slept like crap, of course, for an estimated total of three hours before I had to wake at the ungodly time of 6am. Some exciting moments throughout the night included taking the tubes out of my nose to blow it, standing at an angle to fill the urine bottle, and waking up half an hour before I needed to. With the work Christmas party being an all day affair, I can say I'm very glad for the existence of bourbon and Coke.

Stay tuned to find out the results and the aftermath in Part III.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Saga Of Sleep: Part I

Michelle Shocked once sang 'sleep keeps me awake all night'. For me, that's almost true, but not quite.

See, I've had a little demon on my back for many years now, and it has been the demon of sleep. A demon that is so easy to accept, even though it's a situation that's not the greatest. So easy to just say I'm a light sleeper and be done with it. But there's more to it than that. I wake easily, find it hard to fall asleep, and my sleep is heavily affected by my environment: bed, climate, noise, movement, you name it.

But the last few months it has been particularly bad.

I've had nights and weeks where I seem to be doing everything right, keeping a good sleep pattern, staying away from caffeine, exercising, and even creating an environment where I have minimal distractions while sleeping. Thing is, even with all of this, I've had many mornings where I wake up feeling like I'm hungover, without the fun of having got there in the first place.

Doctors are people I generally avoid, but I finally decided to tackle this sleep problem once and for all a few weeks ago. I went to my local doctor, told him the situation, and had him refer me to a sleep specialist. Did some talking with this next guy and he booked me in for a sleep study, an overnight stay at a sleep clinic where they hook you up in all manner of ways and monitor your activity throughout the night. Tomorrow I'm visiting Mr. Sleep Doc again. He'll tell me what the data from the overnight stay means.

I'm betting on one of two things: I have sleep apnea, or it's all psychological. In a strange way, I hope it's the former.

But you'll have to wait to read all about it. Next part will be about my overnight stay, complete with Borg-like photos of myself.

And yes, I'm that much of a geek.

(Part II and III).