Teddy Snored, But "Sleepy Joe" Relies on Breathing Machine for Good Night's Rest; Leader of CPAP Nation?

By Thomas Maier, Newsday column.    Teddy Roosevelt, Long Island’s only U.S. president, inspired the “teddy bear” doll that little tykes once snuggled with for a good night’s sleep. At bedtime, though, you wouldn't want to be near the real Teddy. The overweight chief executive snored so loudly that historians believe TR suffered from sleep apnea, a condition that affects about 30 million Americans today. Recently, the White House acknowledged President Joe Biden, who also has sleep apnea, now goes to bed with a CPAP machine — a huffing-and-puffing mechanical device with a long air hose connecting a mask strapped to his face. Critics jumped on this news about the 80-year-old Biden, saying it’s another sign that “Sleepy Joe” shouldn’t get reelected. But Americans might breathe easier about their president if they knew more about sleep apnea and these “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure” devices, which are often paid for by Medicare. By using his machine, Biden is likely saving the government money from more costly future care and could very well be extending his life. By admitting it publicly, Biden has become, in effect, the poster boy for CPAP Nation. Millions of Americans ignore their untreated sleep apnea — when a person stops breathing partially or completely during slumber — which can lead to a host of serious and very costly health problems, including heart attacks. Using CPAPs at home is a much cheaper preventative for Medicare than expensive hospital stays. A 2016 study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine said untreated apnea among some 23.5 million Americans cost the U.S. $150 billion in 2015, including health care costs, lost productivity, workplace injuries and motor vehicles accidents. But treatment for sleep apnea among 5.9 million Americans using CPAPs and other breathing devices only cost $12.4 billion — quite a savings in tax dollars as well as human misery. Several medical studies suggest that snuggling up with a CPAP machine at night can extend your days, especially if you're a couch potato. The heavier and older you are — especially if your sleeping sounds like a buzz saw at night — the more you’re likely to benefit. Aging Baby Boomers, obsessed with beating back the clock, are often reluctant to put on a CPAP mask along with their pajamas. I certainly was. Not until my eye doctors insisted did I put on the mask and enter CPAP Nation. The first night felt like I was wearing a catcher’s mask to bed. The hose connected to my mask made me think of an aardvark. The CPAP machine on my night table unleashed a steady rush of air into my lungs. Like riding a bike, being tethered to a CPAP device takes some getting used to. In the morning, though, I did feel more refreshed than usual — something I’ve heard others say is the reason they keep putting on the mask, night after night. Wearing a mask to bed might seem frightful. Yet think of all those celebrated figures — Batman, Zorro, even Yogi Berra — who have worn masks. Putting one on to improve your health might not seem so bad. Other famous leaders have reportedly suffered from sleep apnea, like Winston Churchill, Napoleon and TR’s distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt. But they didn’t have the wonders of today’s medicine. By relying on a CPAP machine, Biden is able to do something about his condition and finally get a good night’s sleep. Columnist Thomas Maier's opinions are his own.