Unintended Effects of the CPAP, or Conquering Persistent Acid Reflux (GERD)

I usually think of myself as a rather healthy person, with few chronic problems and those few that I do have are usually injury related (my spinal fusion for example) than immune-system related (getting sick, allergies, etc). And whenever I’ve had an illness, my body’s first response was to make me sleep extra so that my body could fight of the virus or bacteria.

In fact, that was one of the first symptoms that I had developed sleep apnea. I was sleeping so poorly that I was having a lot of trouble fighting off illness and bouncing back from injuries. It’s weird how, if a problem crops up gradually over the course of many years, you simply think of it as normal. Whereas if it’d happened overnight, you’d wake up the next morning and take yourself immediately to the doctor’s office. Anyway…

Now that I’ve had the CPAP, to fend off sleep apnea, for about two months, I’ve seen all kinds of benefits. Some were expected and some were unexpected. The first big benefit is the enormous improvement in my daytime energy. Hallelujah! I’m more productive and focused than I’ve been in years, and all from a good night’s sleep. The second is that I’m back to form when dealing with illness. It’s kind of a joke these days at the annual PASS Conference that I’ll lose my voice because of the changing weather and the flu de jour. This year, I started to lose my voice, but quickly recovered and was doing much better by midweek.

I’ve had two unexpected outcomes from using the CPAP. The first and most important is that my chronic acid-reflux, which I’ve had for about 15 years, has almost gone away. I used to take one Prilosec or Prevacid per day to control the severe feeling of heart burn and the sensations of a lump in my throat (something called globus hystericus). Tests had shown that my reflux was not cause by the H.Pilori bacteria that is responsible for about 80% of ulcers and the like. But once I started using the CPAP, I’ve only needed a pill about once every 5 days (probably due to a little extra acid production).

Evidently, people with strong apnea are often unconsciously try to sleep with their mouths closed by sucking on their tongue, cheeks, etc. That sucking action puts an upward pressure on their esophagus and basically sucks some stomach acid up into the throat causing the reflux and globus. When they start using the CPAP, which puts downward pressure on their nasal passages and into the esophagus, the acid reflux is averted. Again – Hallelujah!

The other unexpected effect of the CPAP is a major decrease in the number and vividness of my dreams. Rachel and I would frequently discuss and laugh at my weird and wacky dreams which I could recount with great detail. Evidently, sleep apnea allows the sleeper to get plenty of level 1 and level 2 sleep. That’s the kind of sleep you have when you drift off on the couch in front of the TV and, as you’ve probably, experienced causes dreams that incorporate what’s going on around you. If the TV program switches to a commercial about some new kids’ toy, your dream might steer into kid territory. The truly productive sleep occurs at levels 3 and 4, in which REM sleep occurs and, oddly, is very hard to remember. Now that I’m getting level 3 and 4 sleep again, my dreams aren’t memorable.

In fact, I’d seen 4 other doctors before the last doctor I saw mentioned that there’s a strong correlation between sleep apnea, heart problems, and GERD. I have all three conditions! Now, two of the problems are in control and the heart issues are being supervised by my pacemaker.

If you’re struggling with reflux despite medication, it could naturally be what you eat or drink since sodas are very acidic and so are many kinds of food. However, if you’ve adjusted your diet and still haven’t seen an improvement, I strongly encourage you to conduct a sleep study to check on the possibility of apnea.

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