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The New Evening Wear: Would Curing My Sleep Apnea Kill My Sex Life?

Colleen Griffin: "This awkward apparatus has, paradoxically, brought my husband and I even closer together." (Peter Prodoehl/flickr)MoreCloseclosemore
Colleen Griffin: "This awkward apparatus has, paradoxically, brought my husband and I even closer together." (Peter Prodoehl/flickr)

When my sleepy husband reaches for me at 2 a.m., I know it’s not for a little nookie. Instead, it’s in response to a desperate need for silence. My CPAP machine is driving him nuts, because my Darth Vader mask has slipped off, again.

Eight years ago, I was constantly exhausted in a muscle-aching, eyes-closing mid-afternoon, foggy kind of way. I attributed my fatigue to raising four young children. Then, with unexplained memory lapses adding to my growing weariness, I began to wonder if the problem might be more complicated. During a visit to my dentist, I complained about fatigue. "Have you ever had a sleep study?” he asked.

Once I began treating my sleep apnea, I recognized that motherhood was not the culprit in my grinding fatigue. The fact that I stopped breathing throughout the night was.

Next thing I knew, I was visiting a sleep doctor who advised that wearing a CPAP, or a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure air pump, would energize me. More important, it could save my life.

I had entered the world of CPAPs.

It turns out, I wasn’t alone. I’m one of more than 18 million people in the United States with sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that interrupts breathing briefly and repeatedly during sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Once I began treating my sleep apnea, I recognized that motherhood was not the culprit in my grinding fatigue. The fact that I stopped breathing throughout the night was. My CPAP machine has brought sweet relief.

Now, each night before bed, I ignore the feeling of claustrophobia I get every time I strap on the mask. With the press of a button, a machine forces air into my nose and mouth, keeping my airway safely open. No more snoring, no more interrupted sleep, and I awake refreshed. My husband sleeps better, too.

When the mask slips off my face, however, the lull of the machine’s mechanical breathing turns into a foghorn, shattering our nocturnal peace. With a slight mask readjustment, the machine resumes its quiet, soothing rhythm.

The issue of my sleep solved, another issue arose: What would this mean for my love life?

“You have to wear that every night?” my husband asked when first presented with a wife wearing a clear plastic mask with elephant trunk tubing. It’s not a look that lends itself to a spirit of seduction. Unless, of course, one finds a certain Hannibal Lector resemblance a turn-on.

I wondered about the millions of other couples confronting a similar CPAP challenge: How to stay sexy?

When the topic of sleep arose at a family reunion, I discovered I had CPAP company. My cousin Elizabeth’s husband’s face lit up.

'You have to wear that every night?' my husband asked when first presented with a wife wearing a clear plastic mask with elephant trunk tubing. It’s not a look that lends itself to a spirit of seduction.

“You, too?” Paul asked. I felt a near-tubular bond form between us. We joked about the CPAP’s awkwardness while our spouses debated nocturnal peace.

The thing is, when sleep improves, so does everything else. My worries for our intimate life turned out to be just that: worries. The reality is that the mask’s rejuvenating effects fully energized all aspects of my life. This awkward apparatus has, paradoxically, brought my husband and me even closer together.

One evening, asleep and unmasked, I awoke to glimpse my husband gently adjusting my CPAP mask into the right position. His deed spoke not only of his love, but also of how love evolves as we face life’s unpredictable challenges and altering needs, together.

Whether I am Sleeping Beauty or Darth Vader, we are there for each other, and that’s as sexy as sexy can get.


Related:

Colleen Shields Griffin Cognoscenti contributor
Colleen Shields Griffin is a freelance writer who resides with her family on the South Shore.

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