Woman’s Sleep Disorder Diagnoses Lead to Better Quality Sleep
March 14, 2023
Shannon Neme’s journey to better sleep started with a nudge from her husband – literally.
“He would wake me up because I was snoring so badly,” said Shannon. “That’s why I thought I was so tired, because he kept waking me up!”
She described her sleep quality as low – a three or four out of 10.
In 2015 she sought treatment for her snoring with experts from University Hospitals Sleep Medicine Services. She participated in a sleep study and received the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea, the most common sleep-related breathing disorder. It’s considered a serious medical condition and usually happens when the muscles that control your airway relax too much, narrowing your throat. It causes you to repeatedly stop and start breathing while you sleep and can decrease oxygen levels.
Shannon was prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to use while sleeping, which provides pressurized air through a mask that seals over the mouth or nose. This allows patients to breathe without much effort and sleep without waking up.
“I loved my CPAP from the beginning,” she said. “It helped me not to snore and also to just sleep better. I still use it every day.”
Although Shannon’s sleep quality improved, she still struggled with extreme exhaustion during the day. Driving 45 minutes to work was difficult and she often fell asleep while reading emails or papers, even while sitting up in a chair.
Her caregivers gave her a secondary diagnosis of hypersomnia.
“Many people are familiar with insomnia, which is trouble falling or staying asleep,” said Deborah Ewing-Wilson, DO, Vice Chair of Operations for the Department of Neurology at UH Cleveland Medical Center. “But in hypersomnia, a person who is not sleep deprived still feels extremely tired and sleepy during the day.”
Chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders are big public health problems. They elevate risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and depression. In many cases, sleep loss can be fixed with behavior adjustments, such as keeping a consistent sleep schedule. But for the most part, the problem goes unrecognized.
“In Shannon’s case, we prescribed medication to supplement her CPAP and help her feel less tired during the day,” said Dr. Ewing-Wilson. “Excessive daytime sleepiness often is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea – which Shannon has. But it may be linked to other medical issues, such as circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders, narcolepsy or a psychiatric disorder. Sometimes, the cause is not an underlying medical issue, but a lifestyle issue. We work closely with our patients on a case-by-case basis to help them get the best results.”
Today, with her CPAP, medication and other management tools, Shannon describes her sleep quality as an eight or nine out of 10.
Shannon has to manage her sleep disorder every day. She must sleep with her CPAP at night, take her medication on time, and implement other strategies like taking a 20-minute nap when possible and jumping on the treadmill for a burst of energy.
“It’s so frustrating and stigmatizing to feel so tired. I’m still young – only 34. My peers don’t have this issue,” she said. “But thanks to the experts at UH, I know I have an actual diagnosed sleep disorder and I’m getting the best treatment. I also have tools to battle it, which makes it that much better,” she said.
Feeling more rested and energized has helped enable Shannon to care for sick family members who needed her, and even decreased her migraines.
Another bonus, she jokes, “I’m not just sleeping better, but my husband is, too!”