Paul Louth has completely transformed his life after receiving treatment for sleep apnoea. Joanna Wardill reports.
Shattered Paul Louth spent every day for over 10 years stumbling through life half-conscious as his nights were destroyed by a potentially deadly condition.
Each night, he would wake constantly, gasping for air, and spend the next day so exhausted he’d fall asleep whenever he sat down.
It was sheer desperation that led him to St James’ Hospital’s sleep clinic where medics discovered he was suffering from the life-threatening - yet worryingly common - condition of sleep apnoea.
Overnight tests showed he would stop breathing 54 times an hour - waking up his brain each time. Doctors said his level of apnoea was so severe his life was at risk as the condition put a heavy strain on his heart and blood pressure. Paul, 47, of Thorne, said the news was a massive shock after spending so long thinking it was normal.
“I was falling asleep all the time but didn’t know why. All the people around me just got used to it too - I would just sit down and fall asleep.
Estimations are about four per cent of the adult male population have sleep apnoea. But we believe that to be a gross underestimation.
“I used to wake up in the night, choking and couldn’t breathe. And it meant my body wasn’t shutting down properly at night, so my kidneys were still producing urine and I’d be getting up to the toilet four to five times a night.
“In the morning, It felt as though someone had unplugged my batteries - like how you feel when you’ve not had a lot to eat for a day or two. I was really low on energy and would fall asleep eating my cereal. I’d be sitting in a chair, talking to someone and all of a sudden would fall asleep for about 20 to 30 minutes.”
In Leeds, around 25 new cases of sleep apnoea are diagnosed at St James’ sleep clinic every week - but many more are thought to be living with the condition.
Consultant Dr Deep Ghosh told the YEP: “Estimations are about four per cent of the adult male population have sleep apnoea but we believe that to be a gross underestimation. A lot of people accept certain things as normal - if they’re snoring, or nodding off on front of the TV. People think they’re just getting older or are a bit tired.”
Sleep apnoea is caused when muscles in the walls of the throat relax and collapse to cause a total blockage of the airway and oxygen is blocked for 10 seconds or more.
Dr Ghosh said Paul’s level of 54 was particularly high as any reading over 30 is considered severe. He said: “There are implications in terms of long-term impact on cardiovascular system. So there is a high risk of heart attacks, irregular heart beat or stroke. When oxygen levels drop and you wake up, there’s a surge in your heart rate and blood pressure. If you think that’s happening 54 times an hour, with chemicals going up and down throughout the night at a time when they should be stable, then that’s not good for long-term health.”
Paul’s treatment involved being hooked up every night to a machine called a CPAP - Continuous Positive Airway Pressure - to feed compressed air through a mask and prevent the throat from closing.
He said it immediately transformed his life: “It was like a God-send. The first night I used it, I felt 150 per cent better. For the first couple of nights I was only sleeping four hours but felt so invigorated afterwards. After a few nights it settled down and I was sleeping up to eight hours a night- a proper night’s sleep.”
After five years on the machine, Paul’s renewed energy levels sparked a major overhaul of his life. He went on to lose nearly five stone in weight - as obesity is a contributing factor in sleep apnoea. Tests at the end of last year showed he was down to 13 ‘wake-ups’ a night - a ‘mild’ level - and he was discharged at the from the sleep clinic.
His quest for fitness and new-found vigour saw him complete a mammoth 276-mile bike ride across Spain last year for Cancer Research UK. Paul, who runs his own bouncy castle business, said: “I feel fitter every day. I feel like I’m 21 again. Everyone has noticed. I just get out and do a lot more whereas before, just getting off my settee was a struggle.”
He is now on the hunt for sponsors to help fund his next bike challenge - a 2,000 mile ride around the coast of Spain and Portugal. But he said he’s going to wait until his eighth child is born - his third to current partner Amanda Edwards - due next month. He added, decisively: “This [child] is going to be the last.”
Paul hopes to improve his apnoea further by continuing his weight loss: “I still want to lose another three or four stone. Every little bit helps.”
To help with Paul’s sponsorship email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Leeds, 20-25 people are diagnosed with sleep apnoea every week.
Currently the city’s sleep clinic has 4,000 sufferers receiving treatment - 600 of those using CPAP machines.
It is a relatively common condition that affects more men than women and most cases develop in people aged 30 to 60.
A frequent misconception is apnoea sufferers cannot drive, leading some to fear coming forward with symptoms. But Dr Ghosh stressed once treated, driving is safe.