Nearly 10 years ago, Andy first came to see me at the urging of his wife, May. She was very upset over her husband’s constant loud snoring that had already driven her from their bedroom to a guest room. But May was equally bothered by Andy’s grumpiness. “Everything’s a problem,” she told me, on the verge of tears. “Andy used to be so much fun to be around. He could make me laugh like no one else. But now he is so grouchy! He complains about anything and everything. And if he’s not complaining, he’s sleeping in front of the television. I think he’s depressed,” she concluded.
May was right about Andy’s being depressed, since depression often goes hand in hand with sleep problems. But she did not realize that he was suffering from sleep apnea, something I suspected as soon as she told me about the snoring. We arranged for Andy to visit a sleep treatment center at a nearby university, where he was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Unfortunately, Andy wanted nothing to do with the remedies. “I’m fine,” he insisted. “My wife’s just a light sleeper, and now she’s trying to blame it on me.”
Andy and May went home and resumed their unsatisfactory life together. Then one day everything changed. While driving his golf cart to the clubhouse, Andy nodded off and ran the cart off the road and up onto the sidewalk, hitting two people in their cart, and finally crashing into a tree. The pedestrians suffered a few bruises, but Andy broke an arm, his shoulder blade, and two ribs when he crashed.
While visiting him in the hospital, I urged Andy to do something about his sleep apnea before a repeat performance occurred and he ended up hurting someone — or himself — badly. I shared with him the results of a 2004 study showing that people with sleep apnea are three to five times more likely to be involved in a serious car crash. Andy wasn’t happy about it, but he finally agreed. I managed to get a CPAP machine in Andy’s room, with an instructor who showed him how to adjust it for maximum effectiveness.
When I spoke with May a few weeks later, she was elated. “He’s like the old Andy again!” she told me. “He’s not snoring all night, and he’s so much happier in the daytime. And he wants to do things again, instead of watch TV all day. I am so grateful to have my husband back!”
The last time Andy came to my office, he was, as May said, like a different person — smiling, easy going, and talkative. “I never thought I could get used to using that machine,” he explained. “But after I crashed the golf cart, I got the message — it was time to admit what was happening and make some changes. And am I ever glad I did!”
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: August 3, 2012