Don’t Just Ride, Ride Healthy

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You are in your mid-50s, you exercise a lot, your weight is in check and your blood pressure spot on. So if you sometimes feel tired during the day it must be because of too much work. If you feel a little anxious it must be because you have a lot on your mind and if you have difficulty concentrating it is certainly because of age. Sometimes you just don’t recover as well from a long training ride and that too is attributed to getting older.

And what if you are wrong about those assumptions? What could be the source of your sleepiness, anxiety or lack of concentration? Can it be due to something else than stress and age?

If you do not find the answers, you may end up treating the symptoms and not the cause: sleeping pills to sleep, valium for your anxiety and shorter or easier rides for better recovery. Who wants to live like that? What is the solution?

Listen to you spouse about your sleep!

For at least twenty years, I chose to ignore my wife anytime she told me I had difficulty breathing while sleeping. I felt I slept just fine. She was also complaining about my snoring and my restless legs. I kept telling her she was a light sleeper. Over the last year I resolved the snoring by getting a oral appliance called Zyppah.com and I recently got rid of the restless leg syndrome by changing my diet. As a result, I was feeling “fresher” when waking up and Mary Lou and I were now able to sleep together for the whole night for the first time in a long time.

While I was feeling fresher and more rested, I was still looking for more energy and better concentration. Having been diagnosed before with low testosterone, a topic I wrote about four years ago, I decided to go see my new family doctor here in Tucson – who is also an avid cyclist. Like my previous family doctor in Montreal, he diagnosed me with low testosterone. The first doctor to diagnosed me in 2013 attributed it to age and over-training. When my training load diminished in late 2014 because my work load increased, I stopped the treatment. Unlike my Montreal doctor, my new doctor wanted to find the cause and treat the cause, not mask it by prescribing testosterone replacement therapy without further investigation.

Fine, let’s find the cause. Blood tests: normal. Pituitary gland: normal. All other functions: normal. My doctor then prescribed a sleep study. “Why?”, I asked. “I sleep just fine, I don’t snore anymore and my restless legs syndrome is gone.”

Being one not to argue with experts – most times! – I accepted to do the sleep study. I spent three consecutive nights at home hooked up to various wires and devices. I slept well and I was convinced my doctor would confirm what I already new: my sleep is normal.

While I was in Europe last week, out of curiosity, I texted my doctor and asked him how my sleep was. The reply: “severe obstructive sleep apnea”. “We need to get you a CPAP device right away.” If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of developing hypertension, heart disease including heart attacks and heart failure, stroke, and diabetes. Pretty serious stuff.

So the skinny guy who rides his bike ten hours a week, weighs 154.2 pounds, wears size 30 jeans, 15 shirts and small jerseys and bibs has a severe sleep disorder. Who would have thought – other than my wife? The point of the story is that too many healthy adults like me sometimes take their health for granted: our weight is good so our cholesterol must be good, our power to weight ratio is going up so we must be immune from heart disease. Making it on the podium at a local masters race means that any fatigue must only be due to too much work – if only we could quit our jobs and only ride, everything would be fine. We become experts at ignoring all the little signs that point to something being wrong or, even worst, we mask those signs with medication (not my case).

When I wrote about low testosterone in 2013 and talked about it with my friends, I realized that a lot of them had the same symptoms as me but they never did anything about it. When I wrote about snoring and the oral appliance to stop the snoring, the same thing happened.

Conclusion on sleep studies: you snore, get tested. Daytime sleepiness: get tested. Anxiety or lack of concentration: get tested. The good news about obstructive sleep apnea is that it is treatable. The excellent news about my obstructive sleep apnea is that once treated, I am supposed to be able to train harder, longer and recover better. I can’t wait. The sleep therapist came to my home this afternoon with my new CPAP device. I’ll be happy to report back on my progress in a few week