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  • Holly Pantano

A "Very Healthy" 32-Year-Old Female with Sleep Apnea

"Very healthy 32-year-old female", that's what my medical chart said after each visit to my primary care provider. I shared that I felt fatigued, had night sweats, and felt anxious for no reason throughout the day. My provider insisted on anxiety medication, but I knew something else was going on. It's partially true, I look "very healthy" during the daytime, but it turns out I'm struggling at night to breathe.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Overtime if left untreated, it can lead to diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and overall shortened life span.

My journey to diagnosis is a long one, over the course of years. Although I have gone my entire life sleeping 9-10 hours and still feeling tired upon waking (now realizing this wasn't normal), my awareness of a sleep problem didn't start until 2020, when I would wake up in the middle of the night soaked in sweat. Assuming it was from the stress of current events, I shrugged it off and assumed it would resolve itself. Months went by, and the middle of the night occurrences turned into multiple per night, for 1-2 hours at a time. I decided that this seemed like a hormonal issue, due to some other factors, and went down the long road of seeing an integrative medicine practitioner, doing bloodwork, taking supplements, doing an elimination diet, focusing on different types of workouts, and above all, still trying to sleep.

My sleep issues persisted, and although I felt healthier and happier, I still felt the fatigue everyday from lackluster sleep. I started to think that maybe this was normal. Whenever I would share with someone about my sleep troubles, there was usually an "oh just wait until you're pregnant or have kids!", or "me too, I'm just not a good sleeper", or "it only gets worse as you get older" to follow. This made me feel like maybe I was overreacting, because after all, I am a very healthy 32-year-old female.

Finally, after reading the book called, "The Sleep Fix" by Diane Macedo, it dawned on me to get a sleep study. The book recommended a virtual sleep specialist called Blue Sleep as a way to get screened for sleep apnea. To my surprise, they took my insurance, and had virtual appointments available that same day! I quickly scheduled my appointment and anxiously waited.

Meeting with the provider at Blue Sleep was one of the first moments in my sleep journey that I felt validated. She assured me that although I was a very healthy 32-year-old female, it was not uncommon for her to see patients like me with sleep apnea. She set me up with a home sleep study right away. The sleep study was simple, I wore a small device that they mailed to me, and I slept in the comfort of my own home. My results were uploaded to their system immediately, and after another virtual meeting, it was confirmed, mild sleep apnea. I was waking 5 times per hour due to disordered breathing, and getting very little REM stage sleep. The device even caught me snoring (I had no idea I snored!). I felt like I finally had answers.

I'm still working on getting the treatment I need, and it's been a challenge. But, that's for another blog post.

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