Thailand is a country of cat-nappers. Wherever I travel, I see plenty of people who, in their boredom, lethargy, or exhaustion, take every opportunity to shut their eyes and rest. Maybe it is the heat and humidity?
On the list of jobs I would not want to have is the motorcycle taxi driver or khon kap rotmotorsai. While the offices of Bangkok are filled with women, the men from the countryside find jobs like this one. For a fee paid to the mafia and a license paid to the government, they receive a colored vest and an assigned stand at the mouth to one of the city’s many long soi or alleys.
Inhospitable to pedestrians, the soi are usually too narrow, too winding, and too sparsely populated to justify mass transit. Instead, we flag down a rotmotorsai, hop on the back, and whiz our way to the mouth of thesoi where we catch a taxi, bus, or train onward. Dangerous? Yes. I only ride the motorcycles on our soi, where the drivers recognize me as a regular and are familiar enough with the traffic on the street to know where caution must be paid.
Why are our streets laid out in a network of long, narrow soi? It is thanks to the rice-growing past of the central plains of Thailand.
As you can see in the picture above, rice paddies were laid out in long, narrow strips that connected to a main canal or road. As the paddies were drained, paved, and developed (the housing developments are the strips of mostly red roofs) the streets followed the long, narrow contours of the agricultural past. A map of Bangkok shows that legacy: thoroughfares a kilometer or more apart with long, narrow streets stretching out from them. Few of those streets, though, connect the larger thoroughfares.
The result is that many of us live some distance away from major streets and if we aren’t driving, have to find our way out of the soi under an unforgiving sun. It’s enough to make you cave in an ride on a motorcycle taxi or, perhaps, to want to take a nap.
I snore. I snore so loudly that it keeps Tawn awake. After trying various remedies such as weight loss and sleeping on my side, I decided to visit an Ear,Nose, and Throat specialist at Bangkok Hospital. After sticking a probe up my nostrils to inspect that things were roughly in order, he suggested I come in for an overnight sleep test.
(The volume on this video is just a little low… sorry.)
The purpose of the test is to get an accurate read on the quality of your sleep including your sleep patterns, physical movement, brain activity, and breathing. Sleep apnea is a condition often associated with snoring. You stop breathing for extended periods of time (more than ten seconds), which can lead to many health problems including irritability, fatigue, and high blood pressure.
I arrived on a Thursday evening at the hospital. After having my vital signs taken, I went for a pair of chest x-rays. (I have to say, before coming to Thailand, I had never had an x-ray in my life. In the six years since, I’ve had close to a dozen. They really like their x-rays here.) Then I headed upstairs to the sleep clinic.
My room for the evening resembled a regular hotel room, but with linoleum floors and bedside equipment that reminded you that this was a hospital. The room was also outfitted with two cameras, one of which was infrared, that would allow the sleep technician to observe me throughout the night.
After changing into my hospital scrubs, the sleep technician started wiring me up. This took about thirty minutes and my recurring thought was that this must be roughly what a condemned man goes through leading up to his execution. Grim, no?
Electrodes were attached to various parts of my body. Having a shaved head made this process easier, I think. A tube was inserted into my nostrils. Straps around my belly and chest held wires and monitors in place. Finally, all the wires were pulled together like a ponytail and wrapped with medical tape.
When it was time to go to bed, I had to carefully position myself on the mattress. The technician stretched the wires across the bed to a trio of small devices, which then fed the data directly to the computers in his hidden control room. After saying goodnight to Tawn, I read for a little while until sleepy, finally turning out the light and shutting my eyes.
Once the thoughts of imminent execution left my mind, I kept repeating the question, “How can this really measure anything useful?” With this number of wires, electrodes, and monitors, my range of motion was limited. Add to that the unfamiliar bed and pillow and the fact that I usually fall asleep on my side before rolling over onto my back, and I was carrying more negative, skeptical thoughts than usual. I had been offered a mild sedative if I thought I would be unable to sleep, but declined it. After not too many minutes, however, I did manage to drift off to dream land.
Sometime in the middle of the night, I awoke for about thirty minutes. I was thirsty and had to stretch awkwardly to reach a bottle of water on the bedstand. Instead of fully quenching my thirst, I merely sipped because if I subsequently needed to use the toilet, I would need to call the technician and be unplugged first.
I slept a restless few more hours before finally waking at 5:30. It didn’t take long before I decided that I had had enough of this experience and wanted to get up. I was surprised when the technician, perhaps reading my brain waves, entered the room about fifteen minutes after waking to unwire me without me having to ring for him.
Afterwards, I showered and changed into my street clothes, letting the nurse know I would skip the included breakfast and was ready to be discharged. By 6:30 I was home, taking care not to wake up Tawn who was enjoying a peaceful, snore-free night.
A few days later I returned to the hospital for my follow-up meeting. While I didn’t feel like my night had produced a representative sample of my sleeping habits, the doctor was confident of the test results. He explained that I suffer from a condition known as “regular snoring” and that I have no sleep apnea. All of the measures – blood oxygen, brain waves, sleep modes, etc. – we within a normal range. Whether I do anything further to treat the snoring is up to me, but it is posing no health risks at this point.
In retrospect, I have to give the Bangkok Hospital staff high marks for professionalism and attentive service. While I think the package might be a little steep at about US$500 (Why do they need to x-ray me, for example?) the experience was a positive one. My doubts about the effectiveness of the test may linger, just slightly, but at least I know that my health is in no immediate danger.
I’m more of a morning person and Tawn is more of a night owl. Last night, as I was lying in bed starting to doze off, he came in and wanted to talk to me about Something Important. Of course, I ended up being awake, unable to fall back asleep.
After an hour or more of lying there awake, I got up again and decided to do something productive with my time. Several hours later, pushing 3 am, I decided I had better take a sleeping pill so I could get some rest.
Unfortunately, I forgot that I had asked my sister to call me in the morning so we could discuss an upcoming vacation. So at 7:30 my phone rang and I answered it and started my day.
Despite running for 45 minutes in the morning, hoping to get my circulation going, I’m still dragging. It is 4 in the afternoon and my head aches and my body is tired and I just want to sleep, but I don’t want to mess up my sleep cycle this evening so I’m going to try and avoid napping.
Rats. Usually I’m such a good sleeper, too. Let’s hope this doesn’t cause me to get sick before we leave for the US on Thursday.