Not long ago, Lisa Moler was so exhausted throughout her day that she felt she was running on empty with no gas station in sight.
It turned out that Lisa’s exhaustion was not due to the stress of business ownership, or her fast-paced lifestyle, or any of the other typical culprits. Like half of all women – 90 percent of whom go undiagnosed – Lisa was suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.
When she was finally diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, the ensuing transformation inspired her to educate dentists about the problem with the launch of Dental Sleep Practice magazine.
Lisa has shared her experience overcoming sleep apnea with First for Women Magazine, Dental Entrepreneur Woman, and more.
FIRST MAGAZINE FOR WOMEN
Medical doctors couldn’t figure out why Lisa Moler, 48, was so tired, but with the help of a local dentist, she finally reclaimed her energy.
Good grief! If I can barely sit upright for 10 minutes…how will I make it through the day thought Lisa glumly, sitting on yet another doctor’s exam table, eyelids fluttering in exhaustion. “When the doctor knocked on the door, I rallied to return his pleasant greeting, praying, Maybe this time I’ll get some answers…
“Three years ago, I often felt as if I was running on an empty tank with no gas station in sight. It reached the point where I was almost completely nonfunctioning . After 10 minutes of any ‘activity’—typing at my computer, taking a crack at the living-room dust bunnies or even just catching up with my husband, Len—I was ready to doze off again.
“I was also plagued by throbbing headaches, joint and back pain, a 20-pound weight gain, mental brownouts, shortness of breath and scary heart palpitations. And talk about cranky: I stormed out of the house one afternoon because Len wanted to boil corn on the cob instead of grilling it. Why was that so upsetting to me?
“At first I chalked up my symptoms to the stressful demands of my job as a magazine publisher—plus, I was a bit of a junkfood junkie and I was simply getting older. I told myself, Maybe this is just the way life is at 45.
“Still, I was determined to feel better. I tried every vitamin, herb, yoga and massage therapy out there, but nothing made a dent.
Doctors ran blood panels, stress tests, EKGs, MRIs, colonoscopies and more, but the tests all came back normal. I was told everything from ‘It’s your nerves’ to ‘You’re depressed’ to ‘You’re just working too hard.’
“One night when I woke up sweating with a numb arm, chest tightness and dizziness, Len and I wound up at the ER at 2 am, petrified I was having a heart attack. But doctors said, ‘You just need to go home and get some sleep.’
An answer at last
“A few months ago, my back started bothering me even more than usual, and a friend suggested I contact Peter Garibaldi, a chiropractor in Phoenix.
“I’m so glad I did. After he’d spent some time looking over my newpatient questionnaire, he surprised me by announcing, ‘I’m quite certain that you have obstructive sleep apnea.’
“‘Sleep apnea? You mean the condition that causes snoring old men to wake up during the night?’ I asked incredulously, wondering if he was missing the boat completely.
“Explaining that the image was something of an outdated stereotype, he reeled off the symptoms of sleep apnea, including snoring, brain fog, irritability, back pain and weight gain. And while I wasn’t a huge snorer, my husband had told me a few times that my breathing was often labored…
“Dr. Garibaldi assured me my back pain would ease once the apnea did. He suggested I contact a sleep-medicine center for a sleep study, and to let him know if his diagnosis was correct. I did, and as it turns out, he was right!
“To my amazement, I learned I had been imperceptibly gasping for air and waking for split seconds up to 26 times an hour every night—and neither my husband nor I were aware of it.
“The doctor at the sleep center prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure [CPAP] mask that uses pressurized air to keep the windpipe open, but I found the device uncomfortable and daunting in appearance—think Hannibal Lecter.
“I was then pointed in the direction of Lee Ann Brady, D.M.D., a nearby sleep-medicine dentist, who advised that I try a mandibular repositioning device [MRD]—a more comfortable retainer-like mouthpiece that is worn to bed and pulls the jaw forward to open the airway.
“Amazingly, within a week of using the mouthpiece, I was getting a solid night’s sleep, my back pain improved and those extra pounds started to disappear. Every aspect of my life did a 180.
“Today a surprisingly lovely living room hutch has been revealed under several layers of dust and I’m once again productive and clearheaded at work. In fact, in addition to the three magazines I already publish, I am readying a new publication, Dental Sleep Practice
[MedMark, LLC], geared to educating dentists on recognizing the symptoms of sleep apnea.
“The chiropractor who initially diagnosed me told me that discovering I had sleep apnea would be a ‘life changer,’ and he was so right. I feel vibrant and alive again. In fact, at a recent routine physical, I knew I’d come full circle when, after hearing what a typical busy day for me consists of, the doctor remarked, ‘I wish I had your energy, Lisa!’”
—as told to Hallie Potocki
DENTAL ENTREPRENEUR WOMAN
SLEEP. It’s our escape, our refuge, our fountain of youth, our everything … well, except when it’s NOT.
Five years ago, I couldn’t escape the same recurring nightmare. I would awaken a few nights a week in terror sweats that someone was choking me! I was literally waking up choking, out of breath, shaken and exhausted, I would remind myself to breathe, that I was OK and just having “that nightmare” again. Turns out, I couldn’t have been more not OK.
I was tired. I mean really TIRED. Like the kind a two-hour nap just won’t shake. Like falling asleep at my desk at 3:30 in the afternoon at my computer, every-day exhausted. I was fatigued, in pain, cranky as all get-out (think PMS on steroids … my poor hubby). I thought I was literally dying. I had to function during the day. I owned a business. I was a publisher responsible for three magazines with crazy deadlines. I needed some serious help!
It’s not like I hadn’t been going to doctor after doctor trying to find help. I mean, I think I saw just about every specialist under the Arizona sun and had every test known to man. Was told that it was my age, my hormones, I was depressed, over-worked-change professions, take some pills! UGH!!! Finally, my knight in shining armor shows up. Enter, of all people, a chiropractor?!? Lack of sleep makes your back (and just about everything else) ache really bad. Mine felt like it was on fire. I had never seen this doctor in my life, and I thought, “Meh, let’s add him to my growing list of docs who probably won’t help me.” After I completed his extensive paperwork, he enters the room and bluntly blurts out, “I’m not going to even touch your back today, you have OSA (obstructive sleep apnea). I can tell by your answers on your intake forms and just by looking at you, that you have it. Go get a sleep test ASAP!” My first reaction was, “Who does this guy think he is, talking to me like this?” Was he just in a huge hurry, wanting to shut down early to go golfing, perhaps? His curt, direct attitude just wasn’t sitting well with me at all. Some straight talk, possibly tough love from Dr. back-cracker? In retrospect now, I must chuckle to myself thinking how I was definitely the queen of da-nile. 😉
Well, guess what? I had that awkward overnight sleep test (I will save those hilarious deets for another column, on another day), but damned if he wasn’t right! The test revealed I was waking up 26 times PER HOUR during the night. The equivalent of being poked awake 26 times in 60 min period, when I was just on the verge of falling asleep … poke, poke, poke. NOT cool. Not a horrible case, but moderate, bordering on severe and enough to keep me feeling horrible and non-functioning on a daily basis.
I was mad. Maybe more frustrated than mad. Having been in the dental industry for years, and having seen my dentist every three months religiously for cleanings, exhibiting signs of bruxism and airway issues, why hadn’t he caught this for me years ago? Instead of blaming, it became clear to me what my new mission was. Publishing three specialty journals within dental and flirting with the OAT (oral appliance therapy) topic while putting out articles in my ortho mag made me think. We must have an OSA, dental-specific publication that educated dentists to diagnose and treat this debilitating condition! It’s a misnomer that OSA is just for obese, hairy, 300-pound men. Women of perimenopausal and menopausal age are being diagnosed at an alarming rate with this condition. Yes, the darn hormones and aging have something to do with this, ladies. Sigh.
The first line of treatment for OSA always seems to be the CPAP. Now I’m not going to CPAP bash here, but the facts are this: 50 percent of people are non-compliant with this device. If you have severe OSA, this machine is probably going to be your lifelong friend. But being in the dental industry and knowing that there are other options out there that treat OSA perfectly well led me to trying multiple OAT devices. Let’s be real, if there’s an effective option to sleep non-tethered, unencumbered, NON-Darth Vader-style, this was going to be my ticket! I joke, but the fact is, whatever the prescribed treatment choice, JUST DO IT (Nike style), and don’t give up till one works.
My diagnosis and treatment literally saved my life. A couple of months into getting sleep (for the first time in years), I truly felt like myself again. I do not go a night without my treatment, even when traveling. And as for my hubby? He’s OH SO happy, because he now gets a good night’s sleep, too! OSA treatment has become our soapbox, albeit sometimes obnoxious. We never miss an opportunity to get the point across (think SUPER-intense dinner party discussions amongst friends), but, all joking aside, amidst all of the obstacles in my long road to proper diagnosis, I discovered that sleep really is everything, as it directly effects just about every organ in our bodies, from head to toe, including our sanity.
If there is one fact I hope readers take away from my story, it should be that OSA is a VERY serious, VERY tricky, sometimes silent (snoring is not the only symptom) KILLER. It does not discriminate. Men, women, old, young, fit, not so fit … there is no single demographic profile for this disorder. Please, if you or anyone you love, exhibit signs of OSA, get the test and treat it. Chances are, you will stick around for years to come, to thank them for giving you the push you needed to be yourself again.
I know I sure am. Happy, blessed, present and AWAKE to enjoy and appreciate my life and those I love. What more can we ask for, really?
Sleep WELL XO