Sue Moon languishes on three or four hours of sleep a night while waiting for confirmation from something she has long known.
Her loud breathing keeps her husband awake at night. She wakes up exhausted and has little energy to play with her five grandchildren. She is tired all the time.
“I haven’t slept well in two and a half years,” said Moon, 62, who has now been diagnosed with sleep apnea and insomnia.
“It affects your life in some ways. You don’t have the energy to do much. You go out for a couple of hours and that’s it – you just have to get home. You’re just dog tired.”
Earlier this month, Moon arrived at the Sleep Disorder Center at the Misericordia Health Center in Winnipeg, more than two years after she was put on the waiting list.
Now that she has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, she will soon be getting a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, which moves air through her airways and can improve the quality of sleep.
This is promising for Moon, but she remains frustrated, her quality of life and that of thousands of other Manitobans suffering from the growing arrears.
“There are many patients who suffer in silence,” said Dr. Kristjan Thompson, President of Doctors Manitoba and ambulance at St. Boniface Hospital.
The Physician Advocacy Group estimates that nearly 4,800 fewer sleep disorder tests were performed during the pandemic as resources were diverted to hospitalized patients with COVID-19.
That represents a 70 to 80 percent decline and doubled the waiting list to about 9,500 last week, according to new Doctors Manitoba estimates.
It is said that there are now a total of 136,000 backward surgeries and diagnostic procedures in the province, about 6,000 more than last fall. According to Doctors Manitoba, a large part of the recent bump is being caused by research into lagging insomnia.
“I feel kind of guilty that I finally got my test,” said Moon. “How do you make up such a backlog?”
Information radio – MB8:46Manitobans waiting for help with insomnia may not get the diagnoses or support they need anytime soon
The province is expected to release details shortly on a task force to address the backlog. Earlier this year, $ 50 million was earmarked for issuance, but few other details were released.
In an email, a spokesman for Winnipeg Regional Health Authority confirmed that Doctors Manitoba’s estimate of the backlog of sleep disorder tests is accurate and sleep studies are now near full capacity.
“Respirologists identify and treat all patients who are considered to be most at risk,” the spokesman said.
Virtual appointments and devices for home studies are also used to deal with the backlog.
Waiting increases other risks
When people with sleep apnea try to rest, the muscles in the throat become relax and clog the airways repeatedly, resulting in poor quality sleep; Studies are needed to establish a diagnosis and treatment plan.
“If you don’t … treat it relatively quickly, a delayed diagnosis can basically lead to a poor quality of life and poor job performance,” says sleep apnea expert Dr. Najib Ayas.
Without this intervention, persistent nightly low oxygen levels can lead to higher blood pressure, said Ayas, associate professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia.
Waiting for treatment for sleep apnea can cause or worsen existing mood disorders and create a “vicious circle” for those suffering from depression, says Dr. Najib Ayas. (Submitted by UBC)
Sleep apnea can also increase the chances of developing dementia and is associated with three times the normal risk of cardiovascular diseases such as strokes, heart attacks, arrhythmias, and aortic disease. It has also been shown that patients are three to five times more likely to be in a car or work-related accident, Ayas said.
Waiting for treatment can also cause or worsen existing mood disorders.
“Depression makes sleep worse, and sleep, once worse, makes depression worse,” Ayas said. “It can be a little vicious circle.”
Anxiety, depression worsens
Matthew Molnar, 40, knows it all too well.
“I haven’t slept well since I was … in my twenties,” he said. “I’m always exhausted.”
That exhaustion made his depression and anxiety worse, Molnar said. It is a challenge to keep a job and “to burden the people around me, my friends, my family”.
Matthew Molnar, 40, has been waiting for jaw surgery since spring 2020 that could resolve his sleep apnea. The latest estimate he’s received is that he could get the trial next spring, but he’s not confident it will happen before the end of 2022. (Jaison Empson / CBC)
He was diagnosed with sleep apnea about a decade ago and has lived with anxiety and depression for years.
He has tried a number of traditional pharmaceutical, behavioral, and physical interventions for all three conditions, but nothing appears to be very effective. He tried a CPAP machine but couldn’t sleep on it.
In 2017, his psychiatrist told him that he must first get his sleep apnea under control in order to qualify for state-of-the-art procedures that could help him with his mental health problems. That meant a more recent sleep disorder test.
After waiting for an appointment for more than two years, he paid for a sleep study at a private clinic and was diagnosed with severe chronic sleep apnea. Molnar says that when he sleeps, he stops breathing about 55 times an hour.
He was on a waiting list for jaw surgery that might help early last year. The response to the pandemic prevented this.
Molnar, who has a degree in political science and public administration, wonders if a task force will have a great immediate impact.
“For me, a task force is the political equivalent of ‘thoughts and prayers’. They do not bring any real relief to the suffering people. “
The waiting list for insomnia assessment doubled during the pandemic
That story was made possible in part thanks to Manitobans who completed the CBC survey on the profound impact of COVID-19 on Manitoba’s healthcare system. In it, we asked healthcare workers, patients and their families to share their most important concerns and questions about care during the pandemic.