(This is the second of a four-part series on sleep. See Wednesday’s edition to learn more about sleep and health.)
The rumble strips on the other side of the highway woke Darrin Ashmore, Chanute, from a short slumber. In the mere seconds that he nodded off, his vehicle drifted into the other lane.
Fortunately, no other vehicles were in the immediate area, but Ashmore then knew it was time to see a specialist about his habit of falling asleep at inappropriate times.
Ashmore was diagnosed first with sleep apnea and later with narcolepsy, a rare sleep disorder that can be difficult to diagnose. He now takes medication that reduces the frequency of the episodes.
Like Ashmore, more than 40 million have some type of chronic, long-term sleep disorder, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. About one in 2,000 have narcolepsy.
Insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea are more common. Statistics vary, but it’s estimated about half of Americans reported at least one symptom of insomnia at least a few nights in the past year, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep apnea affects 18-20 million Americans.
Other disorders can include things like Restless Leg Syndrome, shift work disorder and jet lag.
ASHMORE’S PROBLEMS started several years ago. He would “nod off” for a few seconds and felt exhausted all the time. He couldn’t think straight. His wife, Laura, noticed he seemed to be choking in his sleep.
Ashmore’s first sleep study in Texas led to a diagnosis of sleep apnea. He admits he did not use the CPAP machine as prescribed and the issues continued. He underwent two more sleep studies at Allen County Regional Hospital and was referred to a specialist in the Kansas City area. Though it took time to diagnose his narcolepsy, Ashmore said hospital staff made him feel very comfortable throughout the process.
Ashmore’s narcolepsy interfered with many aspects of his life. He wasn’t safe driving. His health suffered. Even worse, it separated him from important relationships and activities.
“I felt like I was missing family stuff and I was frustrating them because I couldn’t have a complete conversation without going somewhere else. That’s what I call it, going somewhere else,” he said. “We couldn’t understand, because I was getting the sleep I needed and I was active.”
It’s worse when he sits, especially in a dark and comfortable room. Going to the movie theater usually ends in “a very expensive nap.”
Narcoleptic episodes come fewer and further between now that Ashmore takes medication for the condition.
“I’m able to get more done. My thought process is much clearer. My focus is much clearer,” Ashmore said. “It was really impacting my short term memory.”
Ashmore, who is principal at Altoona-Midway Middle/High School, speaks openly about his disorder. He’s provided information about his condition to school board members, the superintendent, his secretary and students.
He wants people, especially his students, to know it’s OK to acknowledge challenges.
“It’s nice to know I’m not crazy or lazy. I grew up where anything that was wrong with you, you just rubbed dirt on it and kept going. It made things better, knowing there was a cause I couldn’t control,” he said.
“I think it’s all part of being a teacher. You tell people your story and they realize they’re not alone and it’s nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of.”