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This past summer, I started to suspect that my sleep apnea had gotten worse. I was waking up about 6 or 7 times each night, that I remembered, and I didn't feel rested. Part of the problem was that I was taking lithium, and it was causing extreme thirst, which was compelling me to drink huge amounts of water, and I was in the bathroom all day and all night. I was so thirsty that I would drink more water each time I woke up at night. Whether because of my extreme thirst, or suspected sleep apnea, I wasn't getting good sleep, so I asked my general practitioner to refer me to a sleep specialist, and I let my psychiatrist know about it. My psychiatrist was very interested in learning the results of my sleep study.
My sleep study in October was disastrous. I got out of bed 7 times to go to the bathroom and drank 6 cups of water throughout the night. I only slept for 1 hour, although it seemed like I didn't sleep at all. During that hour, I stopped breathing 16 times because of sleep apnea. That qualifies as moderate sleep apnea and is considered serious enough to treat. I went back for another sleep study in November, and this time I wore a CPAP, a device that blows a gentle stream of air into the nose during sleep to keep the airway open so that you can breathe properly. I slept 7.5 hours and was getting at least 90% oxygen all night, which is in the healthy range of oxygen. It was determined that I would get my own CPAP, and I did.
In December, I met with a respiratory therapist and was fitted with a mask and learned how to use and care for the CPAP. At first, I was given a full face mask. After three weeks of sleeping with it, I decided that it was too uncomfortable, so I went back for another mask. This time I got nasal pillows and they are proving to be much more comfortable.
I was not really excited about using the CPAP at first, but now, at the end of January, I feel so much healthier and more energetic since I've been using it, that I believe it is worth the expense and awkwardness. Also, it is thought that if you have sleep apnea and bipolar disorder, using a CPAP can lessen your experiences of both mania and depression. As an added bonus, I even look better. My eyes look much more rested and my skin looks radiant. Now, in addition to considering it necessary for good mental and physical health, I consider it to be a beauty treatment, and that makes me feel more excited about wearing it.
Unfortunately, many people with bipolar disorder gain weight from the medications, and that causes other health problems, like sleep apnea. There is a possibility that if I lose weight, I will be able to sleep well without the CPAP. Getting to my ideal weight is my next quest. When you get good sleep, you have fewer stress hormones in your body, so it is easier to lose weight.
Since I've been using the CPAP, I've lost 23 pounds. This is probably also the result of a medication change. When my psychiatrist learned, from the sleep study, that I was waking up and drinking water all night, she substituted Trileptal for lithium. I've been asking psychiatrists to take me off of lithium for years, but this was the straw that finally broke the camel's back. I'm also taking Lamictal and Saphris to control my bipolar disorder and I'm doing very well. I'm stable and alert and feeling much more optimistic about the future than I've felt in years.