Once upon a time, going to a movie was a pointless effort. I'd fall asleep at various points in ANY movie until the person with whom I was attending would throw his pointy elbow into my side and firmly whisper, "Chuck!"

Once upon a time, driving back to Wisconsin on Interstate-94 meant fighting tooth and nail to keep from dozing at the wheel.

Once upon a time, I'd be standing in front of my afternoon classes, trying to teach while struggling to keep my eyes open and remain coherent.

Once upon a time, I was told I'd stop breathing for as much as 30 seconds at a time while sleeping. I also often would wake myself up because I couldn't breathe, and I'd be gasping for air.

That was all "once upon a time." For the last 15-plus years, however, the ability to stay awake in all those situations has hardly been an issue. After a sleepover at a sleep clinic, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and the CPAP machine is now as much a part of my nighttime ritual as the mattress and pillows are. And I suspect I'm alive because of it.

Perpetually tired

I write this week to perhaps give one person some additional knowledge or initiative if he/she is sleeping at night but feeling tired all day. That was my life, but no longer. And it was a simple fix.

The part that probably pushed me over the edge to do something about it was the fact I was literally stopping breathing while sleeping. I did the math and realized that's why I'd wake at times, trying desperately to take in air. I have to tell you it's about as unnerving an experience as one can undergo. To suddenly bolt upright in bed because you literally can't catch your breath is scary stuff.

I went to my doctor and told him what was happening, and he gave me a referral to a sleep clinic in Woodbury, which appeased my insurance company. It was not as much fun as my overnighter for my gall bladder surgery because there were no painkillers, but it was still fun!

I arrived in the evening and was checked in to my "room." They first showed me where all

the monitoring devices were located; this is where office staff would be stationed while I slept. As they dropped me off in my room, they told me I could watch television or whatever until 10:30. After that time, they'd return to hook me up with all the wires necessary to monitor my sleep. And believe me ... there were a ton of wires. I couldn't imagine how I'd sleep with all that paraphernalia connected from the top of my head to the bottom of my legs. But I did!

Once they were finished, they said "Goodnight," and they turned off my television. Talk about returning to my childhood!

At one point in the night, I had to go to the bathroom; I needed to simply pull the master cord from the wall and head to the community bathroom on the floor. When I saw myself in the mirror, I laughed. I looked like a freakin' science project gone very bad!

Luke ...

Twice throughout the night, I remember being visited by one of the interns. The first time was to put a CPAP mask on me. It was simply a nose mask. I fell asleep quickly, only to have them return a bit later to give me a full face mask that covered my mouth, too. I had learned how to sleep with my mouth open over a lifetime, and a nose mask wasn't working.

When I talked with the nose mask, I sounded like Darth Vader. "Luke, I am your father." Funny stuff.

The next morning I woke and met with one of the staff in a conference room. They told me I definitely had sleep apnea and shared with me my sleeping stats throughout the evening. They said I was a candidate for a CPAP machine.

And just like that, as I left the office, I took one with me and have never slept a night without one. It seriously is a life-altering machine.

I believe I am on my fourth CPAP now. The insurance covered my sleepover and has covered much of the cost of the actual machine and its accessories. The CPAP is small and fits on my nightstand. It's grown more quiet over the years.

I don't believe I'd sleep well without it any longer. I know some people struggle adding this to their night of sleep, but I can't wait to put it on. It's actually a calming device for me.

If you have the symptoms I discussed earlier, check into it with your doctor. It truly changed my life. I suspect it will change yours, too.

Next week, it's the first August column. Holy Hurry, Batman. Summer is whizzin' by!