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Heart or breathing stops during sleep?
Avatar_m_tn
by DunDun, Jun 09, 2008
I am having a problem where my heart or breathing stops after I've fallen asleep, and I wake up panicking.  I've tried to include as many details as possible.

I first experienced this on a business trip.  I went to China for the first time in February, 15 hour plane ride and 12 hours time difference.  I took 5 or 6 Dramamine during the trip so that I wouldn't get sick and slept the whole way.  So after arriving, I felt on schedule; I fell asleep at night and woke up in the morning.  But in the evening, I would get this "weak" feeling in my chest, similar to what I feel when I have bouts of heart palpitations.  It felt as if my heart was slowing down or skipping more often the more I fell asleep, and then after I fully fell asleep, I started waking up in the middle of the night feeling as though my heart had stopped, and was pretty terrified.  I think I had panic attacks right after I woke up, which I have never had before.  I think I had one during dinner one day, too.  I felt as though I could not let myself fall asleep or I would never wake up again, and so I would jerk myself awake all the time (like trying to not to fall asleep in an early morning class in college).

They took me to the Chinese hospital, which did an EKG and a blood test, and said I'm fine, though I don't know how far to trust them.  (And of course my heart never skips while someone is watching it.  Only when no one is around.)  I have had EKGs in the past to look at the heart palpitations, and they didn't show anything, either.  (I have been getting palpitations for a few years, either a "skipped beat" while beginning to exhale or a fast heavy beat that feels like THUMPTHUMPTHUMP instead of THU-thump .. THU-thump .. THU-thump.) My brother gets premature ventricular contractions, so I wouldn't be surprised if I do, too.  They gave me Chinese xanax, anti-psychotic, antibiotics, and ginseng.  The anti-psychotic helped to relax me.  I tried to go to sleep early that night, but woke up suddenly again and was in a trembly panic state, so I took the pink pill, and warm calmness washed through my body, but it made me feel drugged and strange and I only took it once.  The Chinese xanax seemed to help, so we thought maybe it was just stress, but the same thing happened while recovering from jet lag at home, too, when I was not stressed.  My mother's doctor said that sometimes people get sleep apnea from the pollution in China, but it's been happening since I got back, too.  While riding in the limo home, I would doze off and be woken by the tingling sensation in my hands.

Since then, it has been happening more and more often, though, just at home.  I am not sure if it is my heart that has problems or if it is my breathing, since I am fast asleep when it happens.  Sometimes I wake up and feel as though my body has "forgotten" to inhale, and I breathe in deeply a lot in a panic to try to counteract it.  Other times I am woken up by my heart fluttering or skipping, though maybe this is caused by the lack of breathing?  I don't know much about medicine, but my impression is that my body's normal system for regulating breathing has stopped, I breathe out and it never tells my lungs to breathe in again, and then my body parts panic from the lack of oxygen and wake me up with some kind of chemical signal since the normal nervous system paths aren't working correctly.  I feel a strange emptiness or numbness in my left hand and right foot, kind of like pins and needles from poor circulation, but not really.  It still feels strange half an hour after I woke up.  I went to bed around 1 AM, probably fell asleep around 1:30 AM, and then woke up suddenly around 3 AM.  If I intentionally breathe out and never breathe back in again ("hold my breath out"), I get the normal reflex of feeling a need to breathe in, so I don't know how this could actually happen during sleep.

I am 26, 6 feet tall, 155 lb.  This is certainly not the kind of apnea where your throat gets blocked.  I don't smoke, don't drink caffeine, don't do drugs, and drink alcohol rarely.  My heart rate an hour after I woke up suddenly (4 AM) is 72 beats per minute.  I don't really feel lightheaded when I wake up.  I often have anxiety of various forms.  I do spend the majority of my time on the Internet on a laptop, probably with poor posture, bending my neck at odd angles (is there ANY good posture for laptop use?  probably not.)  I try to exercise, but only do a little.  Running on an elliptical for half an hour maybe once a week, lifting small weights and doing sit ups maybe twice a week.

It seems to happen more often if I go to bed late and if I don't eat enough dinner (bad habit from procrastination, I sometimes ignore it, go to bed hungry, and eat more in the morning so that I don't have digestion problems while sleeping).

I know I should see a doctor about this, but I apparently have some kind of doctor phobia.  I went to the doctor just last week about a puncture wound in my toe, and fully intended to ask about the sleep problem during the same visit, but chickened out while sitting in his office.  I don't know what's wrong with me. I don't want to die in my sleep.
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Member Comments (75)
Avatar_n_tn
by KatEyes, Jun 09, 2008
Just for clarification, obstructive sleep apnea happens at all ages, sizes, and fitness levels.

Heart arrythmias are common in sleep apnea.

You will see the doctor when your fear of dying in your sleep is greater than your fear of doctors. The irony is the thing you fear (the doctor) could rid you of your other fear (dying in sleep). Embrace a good sleep doctor as your best friend.

If I were you I would run and not walk to get an overnight sleep study in a lab. The more you stop to think about things, the more you'll procrastinate. The study can distinguish between ostructive and central apnea, and monitors your heart and brain waves. Everything you need to know.

Most people with sleep apnea don't die in their sleep - but some some do, so your concern is legitimate. Most just find their health and their life deteriorating over time.

The sleep study involves no pain. No needles. It is a royal pain to try to sleep all wired up, but not painful. Just consider it an investment in your health and your future. You seem very detail oriented, so I'm thinking you will be fascinated with so many details the report will give you. Ask your doctor for a copy to peruse as much as you are interested. Just do it.
Avatar_m_tn
by DunDun, Jun 09, 2008
Today my heart feels very "weak" and is "skipping" a lot.  I only got 4 hours of sleep and was sick to my stomach from being nervous, so I stayed home from work.

I'm pretty certain it's not obstructive.  I don't feel anything in my throat, I don't believe I snore, I don't have a choking sensation or anything.  It feels as though my body is relaxing so much it stops trying to inhale.

When I first started getting heart palpitations a few years ago I went to a doctor about it.  He did an EKG and basically just shrugged me off and said I'm fine.  He had me wear a Holter monitor but I never found out the results of that, and I don't think it caught anything anyway.

Maybe a year later I was having lots of palpitations one day, several per minute, and went to the emergency room.  They did an EKG and X-ray and said I was fine, made a mistake on a test and lectured me about doing drugs, even though I don't, and it was just a waste of time and money.

Then a few months ago when I was having the sleeping problem in China I went to the Chinese hospital.  They did an EKG and a blood test and said I'm fine.

I think a sleep study would be a good idea, but I don't know how to find a place or sign up for one.  I don't have a regular doctor and have only been to this guy at a clinic three times.  He doesn't seem very thorough.
Avatar_m_tn
by DunDun, Jun 09, 2008
I used the elliptical for 10 minutes and measured my heart rate at 170 bpm afterwards.  It seems to be more stable now?  Not sure.
Avatar_n_tn
by KatEyes, Jun 09, 2008
Follow your gut feelings. Tell your doctor you have an irregular heartbeat and you want a complete cardiac workup. An EKG is not a complete cardiac workup. Tell them you're having periods of weakness (which is what I do with PVC's). You should at least have a stress echo. And if that's ok, asks what else can be done. Don't be blown off. See a cardiologist and tell them you feel you have not been taken seriously. Go from there.
Avatar_n_tn
by KatEyes, Jun 09, 2008
What your heart does or does not do during ok periods does not erase the symptoms of your concern.

Again, a sleep study would monitor your heart overnight. Whoever this doc is at the clinic, just tell him you wake during the nite with irregular heartbeat and you want a sleep study. If he balks, ask him what you have to do to get one. This is not the time for you to bow down. Stand up for yourself.
Avatar_m_tn
by DunDun, Jun 10, 2008
Yes, I should really see a doctor, and I'd like to, but I don't know where to go or how to find one.  
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by Savas, Jun 11, 2008
This may seem silly, but I've suffered from this on and off for years. I find, however, when I don't sleep on my back or stomach the problem rarely arises. Don't suppose you've noticed anything like this?
Avatar_m_tn
by DunDun, Jun 11, 2008
I haven't noticed a correlation like that.  I've tried a few different positions and the same things seem to happen.  Not sure though.
Avatar_n_tn
by KatEyes, Jun 11, 2008
Go to your insurance company's web site for a list of providers, then start calling. See who can get you in first.