Breathing easier

The Thinker by Rodin

I’ve spent three years now connected to a machine while I sleep. This is because I suffer from sleep apnea. Until recently much of that sleep was restless. For the first couple of months it was downright annoying. This was because while the respirator that controls my sleep apnea made sure I breathed regularly, it was loud and noisy.

In response, I plugged my ears with silicon to try to deaden the noise, but it didn’t work that well. Sound still leaked in. In addition it took months to get the air pressure adjusted right. Too little and the machine could trigger sleep apnea. Too much and it was hard to sleep. It’s like sleeping while taking a brisk walk.

When I could tune out its noise, I did sleep pretty well and I enjoyed all sorts of vivid dreams I had been deprived of for years. But it’s hardly natural to sleep connected to a tube and a machine. For example, if you turn in bed then the tube comes with you, and it sometimes drapes over your face, so you wake just enough to push it out of the way.

My respirator merely helps me cope with my sleep apnea. It does not solve the condition. Sleep physicians have all sorts of suggestions for maybe curing the problem. One involves losing a lot of weight. Even if you are successful the success rate is problematic at best, particularly since most people who lose weight eventually put it back on. Another involves trimming the uvula (the thing that hangs in the back of your throat) and various tissues in the back of the throat to improve airflow. This requires surgery and is no guarantee of success. There is also a dental appliance that forces the lower jaw forward to improve airflow through the throat. My brother tried it for his condition and found it painful and impossible to deal with.

The real problem may simply be the width of my windpipe. It’s inherited of course, and if that is the real issue I can’t make it wider. In this case, I will have to just deal with the problem. Moreover, the root of sleep apnea is really in the brain. During sleep it periodically stops sending signals to my lungs to breathe regularly. So far I’ve not opted for any surgery, mainly because of its poor success rate. And given my brother’s reaction to the dental appliance, I ruled out that approach as well.

So I’ve become accustomed to dragging around my respirator with me when I travel. It means I probably won’t be doing any camping, unless I have power source sufficient to keep my machine running overnight.

A couple of months ago I noticed that my machine occasionally rebooted itself during the night. It beeped when it did this, which at least let me know about the problem. After a while it was happening regularly. This is a bit alarming since without the machine on you don’t get a whole lot of air through the vents in the mask. When I went to see the sleep doctor, I asked for a new machine. Fortunately, my insurance paid for it. Since February I’ve been using the latest ResMed bi-level machine.

There are no more nightly reboots of my machine. But the real startling discovery was how quiet the new machine is. It’s nearly silent, even when wearing the same masks over my mouth and nose. With the old machine the vents in the masks typically hissed noisily during exhalation. With the new machine, there is no hiss at all. What I had thought was an issue with the design of the mask was actually due to the way my old machine was pushing air through it. The new machine seems to scale up the air pressure more evenly and naturally, presumably doing a better job of mimicking the way lungs take in air. It’s the difference between driving a noisy car and a Cadillac. It’s the difference between getting some sleep and sleeping very well most nights.

What a relief to be breathing (and sleeping) easier.

Perchance to dream, part two

The Thinker by Rodin

Now that I’m dreaming again, I am noticing some recurring themes. Apparently, I stopped dreaming for many years, probably for decades, due to moderate sleep apnea. Sigmund Freud would probably have a field day analyzing these dreams. Most dreams tend to be ephemeral, thus hard to remember, but some keep recurring enough or have enough emotional impact that you remember them when you are awake. Here are four for your amusement. Loss of control or rather, fear of loss of control seems to be a recurring theme in my dreams, which suggests I project an aura of certainty, which would not surprise frequent readers of this blog.

Is there a bathroom in the house?

I bet this is a very common dream. Maybe it is a condition of middle age, when your bladder is more problematic and you want some assurance that a toilet is not too far away. The dream does not vary much but the thrust is always the same: I need to go really bad, but no matter which restroom I try, I cannot get relief. Curiously, I always need to go #1, not #2 in these dreams. And so I spend inordinate amounts of dream time searching desperately for a working toilet or urinal. But they are always full. There’s either a line of guys out the door waiting to use the urinals, or the toilets are cracked, broken, or so completely filthy that even a desperate human could not possibly use them. So I go in quest of another bathroom while the problem gets continuously more acute, and each subsequent restroom has the same issues, and is often worse.

Sometimes in desperation I look for a discreet spot outside to go, but just when I think I have found such a spot and am about to expose my privates, I find that someone is observing, so no relief is possible.

Eventually my conscious mind stumbles to wakefulness and I realize that I really do have to go, and this is my body’s imperfect way of telling me this. So I stumble into the bathroom, which us middle aged men do a couple of times a night anyhow, do my business and hope the dream will not recur.

The very high cliff

Here is another dream which I believe is very common. Some say it goes back to being “weightless” in utero. Basically it involves an oops moment. Somehow I stumble off a very high cliff and fall toward the ground. I am, of course, scared out of my mind and convinced I am moments from death. The curious thing is that in real life you probably would fall to your death and be dead a few seconds later. But in the dream you never actually make it to impact, you are just incredibly scared by this total loss of control and impending total destruction. The scariness builds on top of the scariness and just goes on and on until the rational part of my brain finally kicks in, wherein I groggily awake and then do what I often do when I awake in the middle of the night: shuffle off to the bathroom because my bladder wants me to go anyhow.

The seductress

This is my favorite dream. Its downside is it never lasts long enough. It involves intimate carnal knowledge of a woman, usually much younger, who is totally hot and totally wants my body for some unexplained and irrational reason because, trust me, I’m not anyone any hot and young babe is going to pursue, even if I didn’t have the wedding ring. Like most great seductions, it seems that the most enjoyable part comes before actual carnal knowledge, i.e. the anticipation of the carnal knowledge and some sort of magic charisma I don’t actually possess. Anyhow, usually she is not only totally hot, but she is exotic, typically Asian. I find Asian women in general attractive, so I’m not surprised they often appear in my erotic dreams. Suffice to say they are not pursing me in real life. Sometimes I actually proceed to sex acts with these women, but usually it ends about the time penetration or oral sex begins, darn it.

I wish I could stay in these dreams, but unlike others like the bathroom dream where I can’t seem to get out of them, my consciousness usually quickly wakes me up with an “Oh, get real!” It’s either my consciousness or I’m tuning into my wife’s gentle snoring. In short, there is no way to actually achieve satiety in this dream. The perfect sexual experience, impossible in real life, is impossible for me in dreamland as well.

The reluctant protector

This one happened last night around four a.m. It sure was strange, so strange that I actually remembered it. I have a lot of dreams on similar themes: I am in situations I don’t particularly want to be in, and I struggle to get free but can’t quite make it free. The more I struggle, the worse it gets. This one involved kids and youth, which was weird. They were drawn to be because (a) I’m an adult (b) they see me as something like a knight in armor, i.e. a good man in a bad world. Meanwhile, all around them all sorts of bad things are happening which put them, but not me, in jeopardy. I’m not sure what these bad things are exactly, but they are pretty nasty and they need protection. So they huddle around me, latching on tightly with hands, legs, fingers, anything they can desperately, because they think I will save them. They cry out to me and drill me with their desperate and panicky eyes. And it becomes too much from me. I must get free from them so I push them off me as fast as I can, to their wailing, consternation and my feelings of guilt. Yet for everyone I manage to push off, two more latch on, so eventually there are kids five or six layers deep surrounding me, needing me, and expecting me to protect them. I simply cannot because I don’t have a free hand. All I really want is to be free of the burden and go rest somewhere, alone, in the quiet.

If there are any armchair psychologists, real or wannabees out there, feel free to tell me what these dreams mean. They must mean something as they generally recur frequently. I wish I could dream of something more entertaining for a change.

Perchance to dream

The Thinker by Rodin

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on

The Tempest Act 4, scene 1

Do you look forward to sleeping? The evidence suggests that most Americans do not. There are too many modern world temptations, like your smartphone. In a way, perhaps it is good that modern life is more tempting than sleep. It suggests that life, however harsh it may be at times, is engaging.

Like it or not, sleep (or attempting to sleep) is how we typically spend a quarter to a third of our lives. Arguably, sleep is not productive at all. During sleep we cannot create anything, except possibly in our subconscious, and you don’t get paid to sleep. Perhaps you can learn a foreign language in your sleep. It sounds iffy to me. I suspect like most of us that when I sleep I want to sleep deeply, dream vividly and wake up rested and reinvigorated.

I actually attempt to get eight hours of sleep a night. More typically it is seven, and that includes the time it takes to get to sleep, rising to use the bathroom and trying to tune out my wife’s snores three feet away (earplugs help). I’ve attributed some of my success in life to following this strategy. The only problem was I was fooling myself. It turned out that when I thought I was sleeping, I mostly was not. More specifically, I was not dreaming. I have sleep apnea. It’s a condition where your brain goes so far into hibernation during sleep that it forgets to tell your lungs to continue breathing. This cannot go on too long before other parts of your brain detect the rise in blood pressure and reduced oxygen. It then sends a mini-jolt of adrenaline through your endocrine system that restarts your breathing and wakes you up, or at least kicks you out of an attempt to get REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the sleep where you actually dream. Waking up so often, even when most of the time I was not aware of it as such, had lots of side effects. I still don’t know all of them. It may have caused my arrhythmia. It has also meant rising to use the bathroom four to six times a night, a tendency to nod off in conference rooms in the afternoon and, perhaps most importantly, little in the way of dreaming. My dreams, when they occurred at all, tended to be short and full of untimely interruptions. I rarely felt rested, even after eight hours of “sleep”. No wonder: sixteen times an hour on average my body was kick-starting me awake.

That was then. Today I sleep with the help of a breathing machine, a common solution (but not a cure) for sleep apnea. It pushes measured amounts of air into my lungs when it detects I am done exhaling. To make it work, I wear a mask over my nose and mouth and then connect the mask via a tube to a machine next to my bed. Sleeping is not necessarily perfect with my BiPAP machine. There is the incessant noise, both the motor and hearing your breathing echoing inside the mask. After a month or so of struggling, I was able to get the mask working so that it does not usually leak air. It helps to clean my face and mask before bed so skin oils won’t interfere with the mask’s adhesion to the face. It also helps to have a flexible, clear plastic nose bridge so my nose does not become pinched by the mask. Just as I am aware of my wife’s snoring, I am also aware of the presence of my mask and the hose while I sleep. It’s hard not to brush against the hose when I turn in bed.

I can attach or detach a humidifier to my unit. I need it in the winter when the humidity is low. I don’t need it in the summer, except for now. Right now I am recovering from having my deviated septum fixed. My surgeon does not want high pressure air surging through my nose all night long, and possibly undoing my sutures. So I cover my nose with gauze and tape and breathe through my mouth instead. My mouth turns into the Sahara Desert anyhow, but less quickly with the humidifier plugged in.

As for dreaming, dreams are coming back, just slowly, almost with some prodding. I thought that once I was using the masks, my dreams would return automatically. Perhaps they have returned and I wasn’t aware of them. Instead, what I discovered is that my fragmentary dreams slowly became longer. Now nearly six months into treatment I often get long, languorous, florid, sometimes even glorious dreams. I also get the occasional nightmare. However, nightmares don’t hold the same terror that they used to. I find I can wrestle and talk back to my nightmares. As for my pleasant dreams, I am easily seduced to stay inside of them. Indeed, rising in the morning to plug into the Internet is often quite a letdown. It is so much more fun and nicer to stay in dreamland, if I can.

The effects of years of chronic sleep apnea are hard to measure. I coped as well as my body could while having little idea that I had an underlying condition. It’s not quite the same as torture, as no one was torturing me. However, in a way it is like being forced awake regularly all night. While now I hardly start the day with the energy I had in my youth, my days are definitely brighter now. I rarely feel the need for a middle of the day nap. I have more energy and can concentrate easier. In some ways I feel more connected with my soul. Sleep theory suggests we dream to incorporate experience into long term memory and to file away lessons learned during the day. REM sleep may be fantasy and nothing more than the mind unfettered, but having it again strikes me as fundamentally healthy and natural.

Do you have sleep apnea? Snoring can suggest sleep apnea, but many people snore without having sleep apnea. My experience suggests that if you awake three or more times a night, you have sleep apnea. If you find yourself falling asleep at your chair at work, it could suggest sleep apnea. (It could also be that you need a more stimulating job.) General tiredness and lethargy, particularly after getting what appears to be a good night’s sleep, could mean you have sleep apnea. Being overweight or obese are often associated with sleep apnea. In my case part of the problem is congenital: my throat is narrower that most people’s and my uvula is unnaturally large. Some health care specialists are suggesting that sleep apnea is being over-treated. Perhaps. I still think that if you have some of these symptoms and can afford it (sleep studies are not cheap, but usually are covered by insurance); it is worth the time, hassle and expense. It might save your life, as many cases of people dying during sleep can be attributed to sleep apnea. Perhaps the best reason is, to quote the Bard, perchance to dream. For me, this alone was worth the effort.

Life under the mask

The Thinker by Rodin

There are things in life that really, really suck, like finding out you have terminal cancer. Then there is stuff that really sucks, like losing your job. There is also ordinary stuff that sucks, like missing a connecting flight. Then there is stuff that you wish you could say sucks but you might get a reputation for being whiny for saying it sucks. For those of you who suffer from sleep apnea and are having treated it the typical way (by trying to sleep with a mask over your nose and/or mouth while mechanically pumped air zooms down your windpipe), you will relate to my opinion that the experience really sucks.

Most sucky experiences though are transitory. Using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) or BPAP (bi-way positive airway pressure) machine while sleeping is the way those of us with sleep apnea should sleep for the rest of our lives. The result of not using it could be, not to mince words, deadly. When you have sleep apnea, your lungs decide to shut down while you sleep, causing carbon dioxide buildup and increased blood pressure. This can cause various heart ailments including heart attacks, blocked arteries, strokes and maybe waking up dead.

So it is truly remarkable that given the potentially deadly consequences, so many patients prescribed a CPAP or BPAP simply stop using it. They’ll take their chances with sleep apnea and sudden death, thank you very much. Because when you have to do something annoying for eight hours when you crave uninterrupted sleep, your CPAP or BPAP (a branded version of a BPAP is a BiPAP) is going to feel more like an enemy than your friend.

Is there no pill I can take? Alas, none is available, and it appears there never will be one either. No pill and your remaining choices are chancy at best. If you are very overweight or obese, sometimes losing the weight will cause the sleep apnea to go away. Or not. In my case, I am not a whole lot overweight, so the sleep doctor doubts it will do much good. Even so I may give it a try. Trying to sleep with my BPAP is so annoying it may be worth taking off that weight and more and hope for the best. Then maybe I can fully sleep again.

There is also a dental appliance you can try. My brother, who also suffers from sleep apnea, tried it to bad effect. He may need orthoscopic surgery to correct his jaw alignment. You can also have your uvula, tonsils, adenoids and some throat tissue removed. Even with all that radical surgery, it only cures sleep apnea about a third of the time. And it is quite expensive, painful and could have side effects.

Of course, the reason you use a CPAP or BPAP is to get sleep you are not getting, the vital REM (rapid eye movement) sleep that makes dreaming so vivid. In my case two sleep studies confirmed I got no REM sleep at all. Presumably I am at least getting some of it now. However, my BPAP is hardly conducive to sleeping. Let me count just some of the ways:

  • Your mask probably won’t seal very well. Cleaning the mask nightly helps by removing oils from your skin that accumulate on the mask’s seal. To really get a good seal you have to lock the mask down. This means pulling the mask’s head straps quite tight and locking down the screw that connects the mask with your forehead. This in turn means indentations on your forehead in the morning and maybe a headache. You do this to avoid the whistling noise that results when the extra pressure from your machine finds a way to escape. In any event you, try a little of this, a little of that and at least in my case it never seals perfectly. In my case, with every breath some cold air hisses out near the bridge of my nose and that keeps me awake.
  • Even if you think your mask is sealed, it will start whistling in the night. This is because the machines are usually programmed to start off at a low level, hoping you fall asleep before it really cranks up the air pressure. It needs to do this to keep the windpipe open. This whistling will usually wake you up. You will probably reach for the button on the machine that turns the air pressure down a bit, but it will be back at full pressure in an hour or so.
  • If your nose is disjoint because it was broken, like mine, then the top of the mask won’t seal well. Worse, it irritates the bridge of the nose. When I complained I was sent a jelly-like piece of plastic that is draped over the bridge of the nose. It definitely helps but is hard to get on correctly, because you have to tip your head up while you try to don the mask, so the plastic won’t fall off.
  • When you sleep, you expect your body to relax. It should be natural for your breathing to slow down. Not with your machine on. Your lungs expand and contract, sometimes like you are in a brisk walk. That does not stimulate sleepy feelings.
  • The mask feels claustrophobic. Particularly if you sleep with your mouth open, you will breathe out warm air from your body into the mask and thus on your face. Had I grown up in a tropical climate, maybe this would feel okay, but it feels weird instead.
  • With the BPAP machine that I use, the cycle varies. As you exhale the pressure drops. The machine doesn’t necessarily get the cycle right. So you either feel like you are breathing too much or, worse, that you are not breathing enough. Particularly if you rise to go to the bathroom, then reconnect the mask to the machine, and the machine restarts at a low level, you may feel like you are not getting enough oxygen, and it’s hard to suppress the shortness of breath feeling. Which means, you stay awake and feel a bit panicky.
  • You both hear and feel your breathing. The mask amplifies your breath. The mask itself expands and contracts a bit while I breath, making a crinkling noise and potentially unsealing the mask. This also means that if you do get to sleep you might sleep through your alarm because you won’t hear it. Instead, you will be listening to yourself breathe.
  • Since you are tethered to the machine with a hose, the hose is a constant distraction while you shift in bed. So you spend a fair amount of your rest time pushing the damn hose out of the way.

I hope I can get used to it. I’ve talked with other sleep apnea sufferers who say they have, but I imagine it takes years, if it happens at all. After thirty days of use my sleep doctor will look at the metrics collected by the machine and adjust my settings. I sure hope she will drop the pressure a notch or two. It seems excessive at 3 AM.

Using a CPAP or BPAP is really like spending every night in an iron lung. It may be that an iron lung is really what we sleep apnea sufferers need to get a decent sleep, providing we can fit a bed inside one. An iron lung however is likely prohibitively expensive, and it’s doubtful your spouse wants you sleeping in one. So it’s a CPAP or BPAP instead.

So forgive me for venting. Whining is good for my system. And while I realize I am just whining, it really sucks.

A study in sleep

The Thinker by Rodin

Over the years, I’ve slept in some strange places. A year or so back, I spent an uncomfortable night in a sleeping bag behind a partition in a church sanctuary. Last Friday night found me trying and mostly failing to fall asleep in a comfortable bed in a bedroom wedged inside a modern office building.

It can be tough to fall asleep when you are wired head to foot with sensors (including sensors on your eyelids), there is a belt around your chest and waist and air pressure sniffers are slipped inside your nostrils. How are you supposed to turn over comfortably in bed when all those wires are tethered to a device on the side of the bed? How are you supposed to even sleep with a video camera always watching you?

It’s unnatural, but maybe it will improve my health. All I knew is that my sleep for the last few decades has felt very restless. The problem was one I assumed was familiar to most middle-aged men: the need to pee in the middle of the night. My bladder wakes me up more times a night than our daughter ever did when she was an infant. There wasn’t much I could do about that so I learned coping mechanisms. It typically took me an hour or more to fall asleep. If I woke around four or five in the morning, I could likely count on the rest of my sleep being restless as well.

In fact, I felt like I hardly slept at all except on weekends. I’d hear my wife doze off fifteen minutes or so after the lights went out while I just lay there in the dark hoping for an elusive knock out sort of sleep. Not true, my wife told me. I was often snoring shortly after going to bed. That’s impossible, I told her, because I hear you snoring and I am not asleep. No, you are snoring, she said, and moreover you need to get checked. Sometimes at night you stop breathing altogether, then resume breathing with a start.

That’s how I ended up at the Comprehensive Sleep Care Center in Chantilly, Virginia last Friday night. I needed to be wired up and monitored while I slept, or didn’t sleep, so a doctor of sleep medicine could determine what if anything was going on with me. The likely cause is a rather common condition, particularly among the middle aged, called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous form of interrupted sleep characterized by abnormal breathing while sleeping. I have many of the classic symptoms including what I assumed was a natural condition of middle age: difficulty in staying awake in the afternoon, particularly in a conference rooms with bright overhead lights.

At any age you should be able to sleep well enough so you can get through the whole day without feeling sleepy. Granted, many Americans deliberately choose to deprive themselves of needed sleep. That was not my case. I usually spend eight hours a night in bed. I can only guess how much of that time is productive sleep. Lately, I guess it averages four to six hours a night.

In any event, I have a brother with sleep apnea, so with my wife’s prodding I reluctantly decided I should get tested, but punted until my annual physical. My primary care physician all too happily signed the referral form and within a couple weeks I found myself in a sleep lab mostly not sleeping. There is nothing natural about sleeping while tethered with dozens of wires. As unnatural as going to the bathroom in the middle of the night is, it’s even more unnatural when you have to summon help to do so, and carry your instrumentation with you.

I could not complain about the high platform bed, comfy mattress and pillows, but I could complain about my sleep study neighbors, one of who brought her mother with her. There was much nervous and frequently shrill laughing from the room next to me. I thought her mother would never leave and she would never shut up. The guy next to me was more polite. He dropped off right away and I soon heard his snores coming through the wall. Meanwhile, I lay there and tried desperately to sleep. Unsurprisingly, sleep seemed to elude me.

Sometime after midnight, feeling a bit desperate, I tried one of my recipes for insomnia. It doesn’t always work but it involves concentrating on a past memory and then concentrating on the random links my brain makes from it to other images. It must have worked for a few hours until around three a.m. when my ever-thoughtful bladder decided to wake me up. When I finally shuffled back to bed the trick would not work. Instead, my mind was counting the minutes until 5:30 a.m. when they woke you and sent you home.

After that interruption, I did not feel like I had slept at all, but the technician said I had, just not a deep sleep. He removed many sensors from my body, including some that snaked down my shirt and pants and attached to my legs. My scalp was covered in splotches of white sensor glue, glue the technician told me that would come out with a hot shower.

Shortly after 5:30 a.m. I was pulling out of my parking space and forcing extra vigilance on my drive home. The drive felt as surreal as the sleep study, with hardly a car on the road so early this Christmas Eve, but one perhaps insomniac runner dutifully running down the street. The cat greeted me on my arrival, but seemed puzzled as I headed to bed at 6 a.m. instead of coming out to greet him. I stumbled through a hot shower, and shortly thereafter crawled into my bed to the only real sleep I felt I got that night, which began right around dawn.

Tomorrow I get the verdict. It’s not hard to infer I have sleep apnea; the only question is to what degree and then what to do about it. Most likely I will be sleeping better soon, and won’t suffer the embarrassment of falling asleep during afternoon meetings. However, I will likely have to wear a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device while I sleep, which itself means a machine will be needed to push air into my mouth all night. It sounds uncomfortable, but is probably better than the alternative of doing nothing. While relatively rare, complications from sleep apnea can be dangerous.

Baby Sleep

The Thinker by Rodin

The Comfort Suites here in Linthicum, Maryland doesn’t have too much to recommend it. It does have location, just a couple of miles from Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It also has the de rigueur shuttle bus to ferry you to and from the terminal. And it has a free breakfast, although it is nothing gourmet: a few cereals, a couple varieties of pastries and breads, and little compressed round yellow things that I assume are scrambled eggs but which look remarkably visually unappealing.  High speed wireless? In theory yes, in practice no. It feels like I am using a modem.

My room is a bit musty, the bathtub a bit chipped but otherwise the room is clean and nice. The view outside my windows speaks of the local zoning laws. A Red Roof Inn offers its imposing presence across the lot. A Quiznos is on the corner and I look down at a Budget Truck rental lot. A private park and ride is across the street. In short, it’s a basically clean hotel but except for an oddly placed electronics museum across the street, it has little else to recommend it other than its convenience to the airport. My team found it convenient because five of us were within local driving distance. This plus the bargain rate we negotiated with the hotel makes for a very cheap developer’s meeting at a facility a few miles down the road. It is almost close enough to drive home every night, but Washington’s legendary traffic jams makes it more convenient for me to sleep here for three nights instead.

My hotel room though does have two big plusses. First, it is quiet for a hotel. You may hear an occasional door slam down the hall, but it is well muffled. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it has a very comfortable bed. I have slept in much better beds, and arguably the fine mattress we have at home is even better. But a quiet room and a comfortable bed yield something I rarely get at home: a really good night’s sleep.

This is my guilty pleasure with hotel living, when I can find it. However, when the hotel is quiet because it is only half occupied, the beds are comfortable and, most important of all, I am sleeping alone, I can sleep like a baby. I wake up remarkably refreshed. This happens, at most, one night a week when I am at home. Part of this is due to rising at 6:30 during the week, but the larger factor is that by Friday night I feel sleep deprived enough where I can mostly tune out my beloved spouse’s snoring.

I don’t hold her snoring against her because I snore myself. I never hear myself snore, even when I feel like I am awake and just beginning to nod off. But I usually hear my wife snore, and even a quarter century later I still find it challenging to sleep through her nocturnal noises. What I do most nights is insert silicon ear plugs into the ear canals. It helps quite a bit but is not a solution. To rest well, I generally need to either be exhausted or to be sleeping alone. In short, I need no loud or aberrant noises. I prefer silence or, lacking silence, some gentle white noise that helps tune out other nocturnal noises. I know that if I am snoring, I will tune out my own snores. It’s those other miscellaneous sounds that will wake me up, or cause me to rise momentarily out of a deep slumber and into something lighter that feels less restful.

It was not always this way. I think I learned the habit of sleeping fitfully during the early childrearing years when a baby monitor sat next to our bed all night. Also, somewhere along the way, both my wife and I began to snore more. I assume it is related to aging. It does not help to also be a middle aged man with an active nocturnal bladder. In short, I have learned to sleep deeply but sustained sleep is very elusive.

Here at the Comfort Suites, like many of the hotels I have stayed at, an hour of sleep here feels like two hours of sleep at home. Getting eight hours of sleep, which is supposed to be ideal, feels luxurious. I can arise at four in the morning to shuffle off to the bathroom feeling incredibly rested. I am happy to throw myself back into bed. At six o’clock in the morning I am almost feeling like getting up because I feel fully rested, and yet there is time to sleep even more. It feels decadent to go back to sleep, but I do. When the alarm wakens me at seven o’clock, I realize I had eight hours of restful sleep. This is the way you should feel getting out of bed, but it is something so many of us seem to have lost.

Sleep is highly underrated. We find other distractions that make staying awake far more inviting. I confess I can succumb to these desires as well. Nonetheless, I try to listen to my body. When it tells me it is time for sleep (generally ten p.m. on weekdays, eleven p.m. on weekends) I shuffle off to bed. Unfortunately, it usually takes an hour or so for my wife to join me. Sometimes I will just turn off the lights and go to bed, but usually I elect to read for half an hour, which will almost certainly put me in a narcoleptic mood. The same cannot be said about my wife, a natural night owl who only shuffles bed around eleven p.m. because she has to get up early in the morning.

Tonight out here in BWI’s hotel alley, I anticipate another very restful night of sleep. It is odd that I find a strange bed to be more restful than the one I share at home, but that’s just the way it is. I can see why older spouses often migrate into separate bedrooms, simply because they realize that being able to snuggle at night, however pleasurable, does not surpass the greater joy of a good night’s rest.

I will not need earplugs tonight, as I enjoy my last night at the Linthicum Heights Comfort Suites, but doubtless I will reach for them tomorrow when, home again, I slip back into my own bed.