‘I’m Possibly Alive Because It Exists:’ Why Sleep Apnea Patients Rely on a CPAP Machine Hacker

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Lynn, who lives in rural Arizona, did an at-home oximetry test, which tests blood oxygen levels, and then a sleep study. She was diagnosed with a difficult-to-treat form of sleep apnea, a disorder in which patients suddenly stop breathing for periods of time while they sleep that most often affects overweight men. She was given a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine and face mask—which blows air down a patient’s windpipe to keep the airways open—and sent home.

But a year-and-a-half and three sleep doctors later, her symptoms hadn’t improved. Her Apnoea-Hypopnea Index (AHI), which refers to the number of times she stopped breathing per night, was “horrible.”

“None of the doctors could get my AHI down and none of them seemed particularly concerned about it, to be honest,” she said. She started Googling for help, and came across a forum called CPAPtalk.com.

On the forum, users were talking about a piece of software called “SleepyHead.”

The free, open-source, and definitely not FDA-approved piece of software is the product of thousands of hours of hacking and development by a lone Australian developer named Mark Watkins, who has helped thousands of sleep apnea patients take back control of their treatment from overburdened and underinvested doctors. The software gives patients access to the sleep data that is already being generated by their CPAP machines but generally remains inaccessible, hidden by proprietary data formats that can only be read by authorized users (doctors) on proprietary pieces of software that patients often can’t buy or download. SleepyHead and community-run forums like CPAPtalk.com and ApneaBoard.com have allowed patients to circumvent medical device manufacturers, who would prefer that the software not exist at all.

 

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Why using an app to track your sleep could make your insomnia worse

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Achieving a precise measure of “good sleep” is becoming a new source of stress, say the doctors, and thus sleeplessness. Mr R is one of three case studies in the paper. “They were actually destroying their sleep by becoming so dependent on these devices,” one of the authors, Sabra Abbott, told Health magazine. The researchers coin a new term, “orthosomnia”, to describe a disorder caused by the quest to achieve perfect sleep.

Why Don’t We Dream About Our Smartphones?

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[This theory] basically suggests that the reason why we dream is that dreams allow us to work through our anxieties and our fears in a more low-risk environment, so we’re able to practice for stressful events,” says Robb. This hypothesis also posits that because our dreams are an evolved defense mechanism, we tend to dream more often about fears and concerns that were relevant to our ancestors — so, less about, say, hacking, and more about running from wild animals. “People tend not to dream quite as much about reading and writing, which are more recent developments in human history, and more about survival related things, like fighting, even if that has nothing to do with who you are in real life,” says Robb.

How Nighttime Tablet and Phone Use Disturbs Sleep

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Scientists had nine people spend 10 nights in a sleep laboratory. For five consecutive nights, they read before sleep with an iPad; then they read print for five nights. In both scenarios, they read in a dimly lit room until they felt ready to go to sleep.

The experiment, described in Physiological Reports, found that when people used iPads instead of reading print, they selected a later bedtime and had a later sleep onset. They also had suppressed levels of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, and delayed time to melatonin secretion. Periods of REM sleep — the rapid eye movements of the dreaming stage of sleep — were reduced when they used the iPad rather than printed material.

Four out of five smartphone users check their phones within 15-minutes of waking up, reports suggests

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While the trend in homes is to increasingly spend more time talking to virtual assistant Alexa, a recent report suggests that we reach for our smartphones within 15 minutes of waking up and our phones will likely remain with us throughout the day long after we have said goodnight, Alexa.

 

Seriously, stop using your smartphone in bed

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It’s an inconvenient truth for an increasingly connected (and addicted) world, but LED screens are the enemies of sleep. A steady trickle of studies confirm this, the latest being a survey of 9,846 teenagers aged 16 to 19 in Norway, two years in the making and published Monday in the medical journal BMJ Open.

The teens recorded their sleep patterns as well as their technology usage throughout the day, with a focus on the hour before bedtime. The result? What researchers call a “dose-response relationship” — the more you dose yourself with devices, the higher your risk of sleeplessness.

“Almost all adolescents reported using one or more electronic devices during the last hour before bedtime,” the Norwegian scientists wrote. “Extensive use of these devices was significantly and positively associated with SOL [sleep onset latency, or the amount of time it takes to nod off] and sleep deficiency, with an inverse dose–response relationship between sleep duration and media use.”

Rationalize it all you want — a quick game of Candy Crush will relax me! — but the numbers don’t lie.

 

The Age of Alerts: Wake Me When It’s Over

Illustration by Christoph Hitz

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…Call me a selfish misanthrope who takes his sleep and peace of mind too seriously, but I could live with fewer of the alarms and alerts that keep coming at me these days… As may be expected, public response to Amber Alerts since the latest system was put in place a few years ago has been mixed.

To the system’s credit, there have been cases when cars with endangered children have been found. But even Marc Klaas, whose daughter Polly was kidnapped and later found dead, a tragedy that helped fuel the understandable hyper-vigilance of today, was an unlikely critic of the Amber Alert system that California rolled out in 2013. He told CNN that he believed it had great potential, but that he feared residents too far away to be helpful might be put off by the noise and opt out of the program.

That’s what happened here in July, when an emergency weather alert roused households at 4:19 a.m. from northeastern New Jersey to the five boroughs and southern Connecticut, involving flash floods that never occurred. Instead, it caused a flood of public and Twitter complaints.

The Wall Street Journal found New York City Councilman Pete Vallone’s tweet: “Like many NYers I’m waking up with the question, ‘how the hell do I get this ‘flash flood alert’ at 4 a.m. stuff off my phone?!”’ ”