Steven Fink Hadn’t Slept Well in 30 Years
Before he retired, Steven, 65, had been a high-powered salesman and the
single father of three boys. When his head hit the pillow at night, instead
of drifting off to sleep, he found his mind racing – going over
conversations he had had at work, thinking about his kids, planning, reviewing,
contemplating. He didn’t feel rested for a day.
In 2001, at his mother’s memorial, Steven re-met Wendy Fink-Webber,
a woman he knew when he was 15 and she was 12. They began dating and eventually
married. Soon Wendy noticed Steven had another sleep issue: snoring.
It wasn’t the first time Steven had been told that he snored, but
Wendy suggested the problem was more than merely irritating.
“She’s very smart. She said, ‘You have sleep apnea,"
Steven says. “I was in denial.”
At his wife’s urging, Steven saw his Newport Family Medicine doctor
who referred him to The Judy & Richard Voltmer Sleep Center at Hoag.
When he talks about it now, his tone is positively reverential.
“It changed my life,” Steven says. “I tell any and all
people I know who have difficulty sleeping to come to Voltmer at Hoag.”
During an overnight sleep study at the center, Steven was outfitted with
18 electrodes that monitored his heart rhythm and rate, eye movements,
muscle activity, breathing, leg movements, and blood oxygen levels. Within
a few hours, it became apparent that Steven did, indeed, suffer from sleep apnea.
“At about 11 p.m., the technician came back in and put a CPAP –
constant, positive airway pressure – mask over my nose,” Steven
says. “I had quit breathing.”
As with most sleep apnea patients, Steven’s esophagus collapses
during the night, obstructing his breathing for periods of seconds to
minutes at a time. Snoring is the body’s way of catching its breath.
During breaks in breathing, a person is robbed of oxygen, which affects
their cognitive function. The periods of shallow or no breath also cause
a person with sleep apnea to move out of deep sleep and into light sleep,
resulting in a poor quality of sleep that leaves them tired the next day.
It’s a problem Steven now realizes he developed in his 30s, in addition
to his “racing mind.”
By introducing constant air pressure, the CPAP machine increases air pressure
in Steven’s throat to prevent his airway from collapsing during
sleep. This allows Steven to sleep through the night and move through
the regular sleep cycles his brain needs to feel rested the next day.
When he left the center, Steven knew he’d be going home with a CPAP
machine, and he felt a bit ambivalent.
“I was embarrassed to wear the mask to bed with Wendy,” he
says. “I felt like Darth Vader.”
By the fourth or fifth night, however, Steven made a joke of his new Dark
Side of the Force technology, pulling his mask on and off his face so
that it made a “whoosh” sound and then paraphrasing the famous
Darth Vader line: “Commander, tear this ship apart until you’ve
found those plans, and bring me those passengers. I want them alive!”
Steven and Wendy laughed about it, and the awkwardness was gone.
In fact, he became such a self-described “evangelist” about
the CPAP machine, the former salesman sought out the manufacturer and
offered to come out of retirement on the company’s behalf. The manufacturer
didn’t have a job for him, but he enthusiastically talks up the
machine and The Voltmer Sleep Center all the same.
“If you really want to change your life, and you really want to
take positive steps, go to the Voltmer Center,” he says. “They’re
In addition to the CPAP machine, specialists at the Voltmer Center outfitted
Steven with a set of tools to help calm his mind and prepare his body
for bed. In a series of six classes at the center, Steven learned the
basics of “sleep hygiene,” methods, routines and rules to
help people who have trouble sleeping.
Steven says that not everyone in the classes had sleep apnea, but everyone
had trouble getting the right amount of shut-eye. Their instructor gave
them several tips and techniques including rules about avoiding alcohol
for three hours before bed and TV or electronic devices for one hour before
bed. She taught them to maintain regular bed and wake times and gave them
a meditative mantra to use at bedtime.
The combination of sleep hygiene and the CPAP machine has allowed Steven
to start getting good quality sleep and feeling rested for the first time
in 30 years.
“Before I started using the CPAP machine, dragging myself out of
bed in the morning was very hard. Obviously I had slept poorly, and after
breakfast I was really ready to go back to bed,” he says. “The
CPAP changed that situation; I feel good almost every day.”
Sleeping 6 ½ - 8 hours a night on average, Steven says his thinking
is sharper, his mood is better and his body feels healthier than ever
before. But the truly happy one? According to Steven, it’s Wendy.
“Now she can get a good night’s sleep, too.”