My own personal no sleep story:

In an ironic way, I was fortunate to have retained a ton of fluid and become extremely swollen during the last trimester of both my pregnancies. In fact, I retained so much water everywhere, that even my nose enlarged from ear to ear. I am a dentist and during these last three pregnant months, I went from wearing small gloves to large ones! My wrists would tingle and burn with carpal tunnel like symptoms causing me to take long pauses at work. With difficult extraction cases, I recall taking breaks to run my hands under cold water. At 7 month’s pregnant, I took a flight from Alaska to Hawaii for a wedding and I very miserably flew with both hands limply set in two tiny airplane cups full of ice on the tray table, all the while trying to find a special place for my sad and tired face.

By the last month of each pregnancy, the pain in my wrist and numbness in my hands became a more constant burning sensation. It was so severe, that I was unable to sleep. For the last month of each pregnancy, I actually don’t recall getting any sleep. My hands hurt so much, that I could not even hold a paperback, but because reading was my only night-time companion, I would read anyway. I would prop a book on a pillow and turn the pages with my elbows or my fat nose. Every 3-5 nights I would wake my husband and make him talk to me because I selfishly couldn’t take his relaxed countenance as he slumbered. Some nights I felt he mocked me with his peaceful sleep and I wanted him to experience my tiny hell. Poor guy; but I needed someone to suffer with me!

The problem with not being able to sleep is that it is not a physical, tangible disease that can be diagnosed with blood tests or biopsied and studied under a microscope. And there is no pill, exercise or surgery that makes things all better. Like depression, those that have not experienced not being able to sleep, lack empathy for your problem. As a person that experiences chronic poor sleep, sometimes all you want is an acknowledgment that you are miserable; but even after you get that, all you really want is sleep itself. In fact, when you lie there not sleeping, you have lots of time to be thankful that you are alive and feel there is nothing to complain about. The urgency of this being a “valid” health problem seems to not be there. You don’t have cancer or any other metabolic disease, or in my case, my prenatal checkups were always fine; but you know you are miserable, and you are definitely not well. You lack focus, you lack the ability to concentrate, you become desperate and depressed. Because of the lack of sleep, your tiredness is beyond description, and certainly, beyond empathy.

The medical world has only been studying sleep since the 1950s and despite our ability to map EKG type patterns and give them names and labels on a sleep study, the whys and hows of sleep still remain theories.

For the past seven years, I have been treating patients with obstructive sleep apnea in my dental practice. I can now describe my loss of sleep as fortunate because it has given me a brief insight into the pain my OSA patients are experiencing. My symptoms, fortunately, disappeared almost as soon as both my children were delivered, but for many of the patients I see, their inability to sleep has lasted for multiple years.

The last three years, I have dedicated a large part of my practice to sleep issues. Out of necessity, my consultations have become longer (30-60 minutes even) as I’ve realized people’s sleep issues are so multi-factorial. I have been fortunate to have found amazing colleagues in Anchorage who really want to work WITH me. True healing can rarely occur without working collaboratively with a team of providers. It can be very hard to navigate the healthcare system for patients and for providers. Every specialist has a little piece of the puzzle that they know very well, but there is often a disconnect in being able to share their tiny world of knowledge with other providers.

As a patient, you need to find your team pf players and make sure they communicate with one another. For sleep issues, your team may include your primary care nurse, physician, or PA, a sleep specialist, ENT, a pulmonologist, a dentist, a physical therapist, a chiropractor, a nutritionist, a psychologist, psychiatrist or behavioral health counselor or even an acupuncturist. You must advocate for yourself and work with providers who are willing to work and learn from one another.

Here are just a few of the many providers In Anchorage that I believe care whole-heartedly:

Dr. Mike Orzechowski and Associates (primary care)

Head to Toe Clinic: Dr. Adam Grove, Dr. Torrey Smith (naturopath physicians)

Sandra Denton, MDDr.

Thrive Integrative Medicine: Dr. Abby Laing, Dr. Cameron O’connell (naturopath physicians)

Ross Dodge, MD (sleep specialist, Peak Neurology)

Nancy Felton, NP (sleep specialist. Peak Neurology)


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