Fighting Sleep

I have mentioned that Martial arts is 98% mental and that 2% is physical. The most important physical action you will do no matter what – is breathe. It is critical that you learn to breathe when practicing any type of martial arts. My classes have always started with breathing exercises and clearing our mind of distractions from the day – meditation. The last thing we do in class is more breathing exercises and reflecting on everything that we practiced – again meditation. In class I have learned that when the punch hits the intended target you exhale at the moment of impact. Executing a center block you inhale during the wrap and exhale at the snap. Breathing becomes very important when sparring an opponent or facing an attacker.

Breathing during a sparring match has been one of the hardest things for me to learn. As you may recall in one of my previous post Way of the Gun I fought an instructor while having major difficulty breathing. No I do not have to wear a set of headphones listening to a person telling me to “Breathe in and now, breathe out.” I am even inhaling and exhaling while writing this post. I am constantly inhaling and exhaling on my own approximately 23 hours a day 7 days a week. Well – OK maybe there have been a few times throughout the night I stop breathing.

I have a question for you. How do you know you are constantly breathing? Are you 100% certain you are constantly breathing during your sleep? Did you know: according to the National Sleep Foundation more than 18 million people suffer from sleep apnea?

When I was younger I had suspicion that I might have occasional bouts of sleep apnea. There were nights I woke up gasping for air. I found what I thought were a few easy fixes to prevent apnea. Years later I found that these fixes were insufficient and needed further assistance. I had mentioned to the doctor I thought I might have apnea. He looked at me and said “nope, you do not have the typical body type of someone who gets apnea.” I left it at that and dozed back off to sleep.

SleepApneaAhhh…sleep. At the ripe old age of 33 I thought I was just getting older and needed to go to bed earlier. No more late nights staying up watching movies till 3:00AM on the weekends. I was tired by 9:00PM on SATURDAY! Eventually I needed to take a nap after getting home from work. Then one day I realized I was getting awfully tired while sitting at my desk. I remember thinking to myself “Well it is 2:00PM and I had a bunch of carbs. No wonder why I am tired.” Then a few days later I was exhausted after putting in an hour of work. When I felt sleepy at work I’d stand at my desk and do work. That went great for about 5 minutes and then I’d lean up against my desk and fall asleep. I was going to bed earlier and earlier. In the mornings I’d hit the snooze button several times so I could sleep in as late as I could. I was sleeping in the car to work and to home. I was not driving. I was scrolling through Facebook while sleeping. I’d be in the middle of conversations and doze off in mid-sentence. I’d be in the shower and nod off to sleep. Each time I fell asleep, I went into R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) and began snoring – loud. Soon all of these instances became a daily occurrence.

I didn’t realize what was happening to me at first. I also didn’t realize it was negatively affecting my mood and my health. I was overweight and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t lose the weight. The last diet I tried was Tim Ferris’s from his book the 4 Hour Body. After a few weeks I began to see results. My clothes were beginning to be loose on me, then one morning they were tight. About midway through 2014 I began using the bathroom more frequently at night time. I was waking up and heading to the restroom as many as 4 times a night. Apparently my kidneys were working overtime to pull water off of my lungs. I was gaining an excessive amount of water weight.

I was beginning to get aggravated with people closest to me. I didn’t want to go to work. I loathed every minute I was there. Now I get it that most people don’t like to work. I had at one time actually enjoyed going to work and doing my job. Instead I was irritable and constantly sleepy. I would sit in meetings with top level executives fighting every second to stay awake. There were a few times I had contemplated taking the pen in my hand to stab myself in the leg so I could get a burst of adrenaline so I could survive the rest of the meeting. I was consuming 3 to 5 cups of coffee at work. That is not counting the 2 or 3 cups I had at home before and after work.

On most occasions I had this overwhelming feeling hit me. I knew moments later I would enter into R.E.M. I would be in the middle of writing and all of the sudden I am dreaming about an exotic land or hanging out with a friend and eating food. In the middle of the dream I would realize that I am a sleep and I am at work. I must wake up!

Finally I broke down and I went to the doctor. I looked at him and said “if you don’t do something about the fact I am sleeping all of the time, I am going out and getting an 8 Ball of cocaine!” Before I left the office I had an appointment with a sleep clinic and a pulmonologist.

I go to the sleep clinic and I answer their brief survey. I scored high on the charts for sleep apnea. I was told to watch a video. I remember in the video the guy is going about his work day having issues staying awake. He is diagnosed with apnea and begins to receive treatment. Towards the end of the video the guy is living a more active lifestyle and is playing Frisbee.

In the middle of the night during my sleep study at the clinic I hadn’t been asleep 2 hours before the respiratory therapist come rushing into the room. They woke me up and said “We need to begin treatment now!”

At the consultation with the doctor a month later I was informed that I was a severe case. He said I was a textbook case because of my scoliosis. He explained that the curvature of the spine reshaped the lungs. With the lungs being reshaped people are more susceptible to pulmonary issues. The doctor went on to explain the results of my sleep study. He reiterated that I would be a severe case. Apparently that was an understatement. Let’s just say the results weren’t “IF” I died in my sleep but “WHEN” I die in my sleep.

No one likes the idea sleeping with a machine to help you breathe. After that comment from the doctor I have had no problem putting that mask on before hopping into bed. I am not as irritated by people, I am actually enjoying the job I do for a living. The best part is that I am losing weight, my energy levels are up and I can enjoy a good workout. I am getting a full night of sleep and I am not waking up four or more times a night to go use the bathroom.

I bring this up because it is important to be in good health when practicing martial arts. It is important to get plenty of rest. It is imperative that we care for our lungs (as well as the rest of our body). I explained that in the beginning of class and at the end of class we take time to meditate and work on deep breathing. We work on clearing our mind of distractions. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms then you can’t go into class and clear your mind. You can’t take in deep breathes. You can’t function properly.

Feel free to comment below. I would like to hear about your experiences. Are you experiencing any of the symptoms? Does sleep apnea affect your performance in martial arts or other physically demanding activity?


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