Snoring Digital Age Problem

I was driving for hours from Nags head in North Carolina to Bridgewater in Virginia on I-64. I was half an hour from home when I felt so dangerously sleepy I thought I was going to crash. I pulled over into a gas station and had to take a long nap. I went to see my doctor. I told him that for weeks I had been waking up exhausted and felt tired all day. Sometimes I was dozing and falling asleep at 8:30 am in my office moments before I had to go to class to give a lecture. After the examination my doctor’s diagnosis was sleep apnea. I wasn’t stunned because I didn’t know what sleep apnea was but I knew it was not terminal.

My doctor explained that during sleep my breathing passage was blocked and I stopped breathing probably hundreds of times during the night. I would stir up awake each time and never had any restful night’s sleep. That’s why I was tired even early in the morning. There was no cure. My doctor referred me to a local sleep specialist whom my doctor said might know some of the possible cutting edge options on how to better manage my sleep apnea.

Although I was disappointed, part of me was both relieved and hardly surprised. I had arrived in the United States for Graduate School at Michigan State at the young age of 23 and wearing a blue jeans size 29 probably weighing about 135 lbs. That enviable size and weight was the product of  the Third World traditional lean diet from living in Zambia in Southern Africa combined with walking everywhere. A couple of decades later as I approached my mid-forties, the American diet syndrome suddenly hit me: I gained some weight and begun to experience some serious health problems. This was after years of leading a more sedentary lifestyle combined with owning a car, eating too many hamburgers and pizzas at birthday parties and numerous other celebratory occasions. Often I washed down these foods with unbelievable calorie loaded beverages with different but questionable viscosities.

When I was first diagnosed with sleep apnea I was turning 50. I had exercised, changed some of my diet very dramatically for the better but still gained enough weight to cause the illness. When I went to see the sleep specialist, he gave me very few options. There was no cure or a pill I could take. I could have a machine hooked to my mouth that would help me breathe at night. Although, there was no guarantee, I could exercise more regularly and lose some weight and that might help. I opted to hit the gym, weigh my food portions, and lose some weight.

Six months later I dropped some pounds, slept well and I felt so much better. But as months went by,  the weight  crept back. The worst happened as my mother-in-law passed away after battling cancer for 18 months, I had gained some weight, had hypertension, sleep apnea, and I had massive debilitating headaches for weeks. I am not taking good health for granted anymore.

During the last 6 months of my moderate physical exercise, keeping my weight under control and watching what I eat have been cancelled out with snoring so serious that my wife was jabbing me in my ribs many times during the night. I was tired all day again. I went on a serious crusade to stop my snoring. I gathered every bit of information I could get my hands on how to stop my snoring. I was just getting beyond 55. As you get older your muscles around your jaw, throat and breathing passages relax, get loose and flap shut and block your breathing airway when you sleep causing snoring perhaps worsening your sleep apnea. I tried at least more than a dozen mouth anti-snoring devices on line including breathe ease strips, wearing uncomfortable mouth sports guards and combined with chin straps at night while I slept. None of these worked.

One day during a moment of desperation and frustration I suddenly thought out the blue: “What if I sung out aloud in my basement? Would that help my throat muscles?”  I got hold of an old Bantu Nyanja language hymnal from my childhood in Africa that I had not looked at for decades. It was from the Dutch Reformed Mission Church Boarding school I had attended as a child. I reasoned that the Nyanja Bantu African language has very elaborate vowel sounds of ahhh! ehhh! ohhh! I sung aloud in my basement for 15 minutes and also gargled with water loudly throwing my head back for 2 minutes. That night I had the best sleep in a year. When my wife woke up she said she had not heard any snoring during the night. That was sweet music to my ears. I have been singing for 15 minutes every night since two months ago. I also gargle loudly for 2 minutes immediately after.

As we get closer to fifty and older, we may have no young children in the house to constantly talk to, we may be retired, we may be isolated quietly watching TV or working quietly with computers, or using the facebook social network, text messaging, using the ipod to listen to music, and our culture may be uncomfortable with people who talk or laugh too much, loudly, and holler both in the home and in public. None of these social mediums may offer opportunities to exercise our throat and vocal muscles enough. The very non-verbal digital technology we think is great today with 600 million people on face book around the world may actually be hurting everyone and especially those older than 50. If we can both talk a lot, sing loudly, and perhaps even chew harder food in our everyday lives, these may be some of the  factors that may strengthen our throat, jaw, and vocal muscles enough to keep open our airwaves when we sleep and prevent snoring and some of the sleep apnea in everyone but especially the often isolated elderly.