As a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition practitioner and Holistic Nutritionist, I help my clients by recommending changes in DRESS: Diet, Rest, Exercise, Stress reduction, and Supplementation. It seems like all the rage about health is diet these days. Personally, since I’ve figured out my weekly food prep routines and an identity of someone who loves being strong, sticking to a diet or exercise program has never been an issue. For most people, diet, exercise, and supplements are the easier part. Oddly enough, it is easier to do more than to do less… when what got us unhealthy in the first place was doing too much. Unfortunately, doing less and getting enough sleep is often the 20% of changes that gets us 80% of the results.
When I learned about obstructive sleep apnea from Dr. Joe Zelk through my mentor Ben Greenfield’s the Super Human Coach network, I was intrigued with Dr. Zelk’s statement that all adrenal fatigue clients should get screened for sleep apnea. This makes perfect sense! If people are not sleeping well or somehow missing in that department, it makes no sense even to add adrenal supplements. What good is all the other health troubleshooting if the client is simply not getting their blood well oxygenated at night? Missing the most powerful (and free) healing potential that we have means that everything else we do to fix the problem will be a clutch. Dr. Zelk recommends using an overnight oximeter kit, which can be done at home to screen for obstructive sleep apnea.
That’s when I started researching more about sleep while playing with sleep trackers and measurements like HRV. And the research that supports the importance of sleep is very strong. Even more struggling is that only 10% of sleep apnea cases are diagnosed, even though it is associated with numerous health problems like weight gain, cardiovascular risks, hormonal problems. So now I start referring my clients out to get screened for sleep apnea, especially ones that snore or seem to be mysteriously gaining weight.
At the same time, I was still dealing with lingering adrenal fatigue or HPA axis dysfunction despite getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep most nights. Therefore, my neuromuscular dentist wanted to send me to a sleep specialist. My dentist also said that my tongue is a little too big for my narrow palate, which could interfere with sleep.
I resisted this for a few weeks because I don’t like going to the doctor’s office, but in the end I decided to go. I took this as an opportunity to set an example for my clients and to really find out for myself if I had uncovered the root cause of my health problems. The good news was that it was covered by provincial health insurance, but I was told I wouldn’t be covered for a 2nd round if the first one came back normal.
To get this covered by insurance, I had to request that my family doctor sent a referral to the sleep specialist. When I went to see the sleep doctor, he asked me a few questions before his assistant gave me a really long questionnaire including the STOP-BANG and other kinds of surveys to fill out. (It took me hours to finish all the questionnaire, but I love it when a healthcare practitioner asks a lot of questions, because it means they do a better job when they are thorough. Some of these are for research purposes, and, being a researcher, I secretly enjoy seeing the research questions.) She then assigned me a date for the sleep study.
The day finally came, I went in a little late and found myself with a nice soft and clean bed and pillow, which was nice for a hospital. The technician came in to get me wired up, which took about over an hour. There were probably hundreds of wires all over my body, from EEG probes to track my brain waves, bands round my rib cage to track my rib movements, probes on my arms and legs to track how I move, probe on my mouth and nose to track breathing, pulse oximeter on my fingers, and even the sound recording/filming to see if I was snoring. The wires were connected to me with some sticky, waxy goo (including in my hair).
She then monitored me all night to ensure that all the data was being collected. The worst part was that when anything fell off, she would come into the room, turn on the light and put it back in place. That means the nose probe would get yanked back into my nose multiple times during the wee hours of the night. That, I have to say, was the least fun part because it was impossible to get good sleep like that.
If I ever wanted to get up for any reason, I would have to call the technician to unhook everything so that I could get out of bed and re-hook everything back on as I got back into bed. That happened 3-4 times over the night and I totally appreciated her patience with me.
In the morning, the technician told me it would take 5 weeks before the results were analyzed and sent to the doctor. (I did think that’s a ridiculous amount of time for such data analysis given today’s computing powers, but I actually had no idea what went behind the scenes.)
The day finally came and I went to see the sleep doctor again. He said it came back normal, except for the fact that I probably was not sleeping well since I wasn’t home and the sleep was interrupted multiple times during the night.
My inner scientist says that I should never take the results as face value. Although the result was “normal”, there were minor changes in the oxygen saturation (OSat) that could indicate upper airway resistance. Possibly this could come from congestion or narrow palate.
So, beyond this seemingly normal result, I am still nitpicking on my sleep issues to find out if this could contribute to hormone balance and fatigue. There is no diagnosis, but that’s not what I’m after. I’m after optimal sleep and 100% function. I’ll be trying more take-home sleep study over the period of days to see if my tongue and narrow palate prevent me from getting my best sleep.
I have to say getting a sleep study was not fun at all, especially the not getting sleep part. It’s perhaps my first introduction to real bio-hacking when I really was hooked up to a hundred different measurements. Now I know what to decide for my clients. Given the rather unpleasant experience, I’m more inclined to screen for obstructive sleep apnea with an overnight pulse oximeter for a few days first than to send them for a sleep study. I still do recommend many of my clients to ask their doctors about a sleep study in case any sleep disorder diagnosis can come up or if the pulse oximeter shows potential sleep disturbances. These clients are often ones who deal with “adrenal fatigue”, weight gain, depression, blood sugar issues, hormone imbalances or just persistent fatigue.