Spirit Matters: The power of sleep; the power of the Holy Spirit

On Thursday evening I received confirmation of something I have intuitively known for some time. I have been diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is when muscles in your throat relax enough so soft tissues block your airway, resulting in the frequent stopping and restarting of breathing during the night. This condition was confirmed through a home sleep study, where I strapped a portable machine around my chest, while I slept. This machine recorded numerous data related to my breath rate, cardiac function and more, while I slept.

I have noticed, particularly in the last six months, that I often catch myself choking on my breath during the night. Disturbing, to say the least. During this time, my poor sleep has been exacerbated by difficulties with my dog and his anxiety issues during the night. Sometimes he wakes me up three or four times a night, and he is persistent. He is roughly 100 pounds, and he does not back down until he gets what he wants. Fortunately, some interventions in treating his anxiety have helped those interruptions subside.

In addition, I have struggled with keeping weight off for many years — especially after I began being treated for major depression and anxiety at the end of 2004 — and obesity is a prime indication of the potential for sleep apnea. In the last six months or so, I have gained roughly 10 to 15 pounds, and this has markedly increased my symptoms.

In fact, when I saw the sleep specialist a month or so ago, and he ordered a sleep study, he told me to also lose weight, which would likely ease the symptoms.

In researching this condition after my confirmed diagnosis, I found that having untreated sleep apnea can be a double-edged sword in the attempt to lose weight, which honestly, was a bit of relief. There is a partial explanation for all my failed attempts to lose weight over the years.

A website for Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee stated the following:

“If you’re not getting restful sleep because your airway is blocked and you have disordered breathing with obstructive sleep apnea, your body is fighting against you. The hormonal imbalance that results from poor sleep makes weight loss nearly impossible.”

The sleep specialist has ordered a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine as the first-line treatment for this condition. The CPAP machine pushes a steady stream of air through a mask that you wear while you sleep. It keeps your airway open.

More research indicated that when the CPAP is used effectively, one’s quality of life improves, making weight loss more possible, and, in fact, easier.

The reality is, there are millions of people who have sleep apnea and don’t know it. The condition can only be confirmed by an at-home or in-lab sleep study, and unless you notice these symptoms or the person you are sleeping with notices it and says something, one can go years without knowing it.

Sleep apnea is dangerous in that when left untreated, it can lead to serious complications, such as diabetes, heart disease and possibly even the predisposition to developing dementia.

I am praying now that with a medical diagnosis and the beginning of intervention, many of my health challenges that have resulted from poor sleep will begin to reverse themselves, and that my efforts to live a healthy lifestyle will be more effective.

So … Now that I have laid all this out, you might be wondering … what does this all have to do with spirituality?

In my mind, it has a lot to do with it.

At its most basic, sleep apnea is the loss of the life breath.

The Holy Spirit is traditionally seen as the Breath of Life, not only for human beings, but also for all of creation. The Holy Spirit gives and sustains life.

Our physical bodies and our spirits our deeply intertwined, inseparable. What affects the body, affects the spirit; and what affects the spirit, affects the body. Particularly recently, I have noticed a change in my daily mood. I am often more impatient and grouchier than is typical for me. My thinking is not always clear. My research indicates these indications can result from sleep apnea.

Through the years of my spiritual journey, I have sought out a deeper awareness of the Holy Spirit in my life, and I have not been disappointed.

The Holy Spirit is real, and it is powerful.

The most powerful force in the universe, as a matter of fact.

The Holy Spirit’s movement in my spiritual life has been profound, transforming me from the inside out, and enabling me to speak and act in ways I could not possibly do by my own accord.

This morning as I sat on the deck, newly troubled by this diagnosis, but also grateful that I have confirmation and a medical treatment plan moving forward, I thought of how it is true that while many variables are within our control, many others are not. And, I realized that while I am not personally designed to understand all the intricacies of the human body, the Holy Spirit is.

So, I turned over my worries about what could happen, and am choosing to trust in the healing power of the all-knowing Holy Spirit, the Breath of Life, with my cooperation, of course.

And I began to pray:

Come Holy Spirit, breathe in me. Come Holy Spirit, breathe in me. Come Holy Spirit, breathe in me ...

I noticed in that moment, my breath becoming deeper, broader, all-encompassing, and I was reminded once again of times in my spiritual life when I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the Holy Spirit was breathing in and through me.

Just as the Spirit has consumed me spiritually, I trust the healing power of the Holy Spirit will now consume me physically, and heal me.

Come Holy Spirit, breathe in me …

· SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and in your community.