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Amanda’s mission to overcome debilitating sleep disorder

Amanda Ramsay

PhD student Amanda Ramsay

Press release issued: 30 April 2014

Waking up every five minutes during the night left Amanda Ramsay suffering from overwhelming exhaustion, depression and weight gain. Now, having finally been diagnosed with a little-known sleep disorder, the University of Bristol PhD student is embarking on an awareness campaign and weight loss challenge to improve her quality of life.

Amanda described her life as ‘living with the handbrake on’ because she had no energy and doctors, including an NHS consultant specialising in chronic fatigue, were unable to diagnose the cause of such chronic ill health.

Thanks to her mum Maureen Ramsay’s diligent online research, she was finally diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) – a condition which is more common than severe asthma, affecting four percent of middle-aged men and two per cent of middle-aged women, but largely goes undiagnosed.

OSA causes the upper airway to collapse in people’s throat when their muscles relax during sleep. According to the British Lung Foundation, some sufferers wake up briefly but others have no idea that their sleep is being so frequently disrupted.

If untreated, people often fall asleep mid-conversation, whilst sitting-up or whilst driving. It also dramatically increases the chance of stroke, heart disease, heart attack, morbid obesity and diabetes.

A sleep study in 2011 finally pinpointed OSA as the cause of Amanda’s exhaustion. By recording her oxygen levels throughout the night, it revealed that she was waking up every five minutes gasping for breath.

She said: “I used to have a frightening sensation that I was swallowing something by mistake and couldn’t breathe. It was such a horrible experience, which was repeated night after night. I now know that it was actually my windpipe closing.

“I felt utterly wiped out, with a foggy head, low concentration and a sense of not having enough energy to even get to work. Caffeine, carbs and sugar were getting me through the day. I had to rest most of the time and could only walk for about five minutes.

“My current consultant believes I’ve had the condition since my early 20s but I wasn’t aware of it because I was younger and able to function with less energy. As I got older and the symptoms became more apparent I went to various GPs to raise concerns about depression, overwhelming exhaustion, weight gain and painful acid reflux, yet no one picked up on sleep apnoea until my mum came across it online.”

Amanda’s condition became so debilitating that she was at times house bound, while desperately trying to continue her freelance work as a researcher, writer and columnist. Thankfully, she’s now able to manage the condition with the help of a special respiratory machine and mask which pumps pressurised air into her body while she sleeps to maintain airflow.

Amanda unfortunately suffered a second health blow earlier this year when she developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) but is overcoming it through Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and the Lightning Process.

To improve her health even further, Amanda has also embarked on a weight loss challenge, aiming to lose between three and five stone by Christmas while also raising money for the British Lung Foundation.

Two coaches have offered their time for free to help with Amanda’s challenge - a nutritionist, health and wellness coach from Brainbox Coaching and former Olympian and now personal trainer Tom Wood.

Amanda, who was forced to give up work but is now studying for a PhD in the Graduate School of Education at Bristol University, added: “Weight loss will not rid me of this condition but it will certainly improve my chances of living a long and healthy life. Committing to exercise and healthy eating to shed stones is a really big deal for me but I am determined to achieve my goals by Christmas.

“During the challenge I will also be writing a document to submit to the NHS. It’s astonishing that no one picked up on sleep apnoea, which is one of the reasons behind my campaign – to encourage the NHS to look out for the symptoms and offer sleep studies to help with early detection. There’s also a need for better practical and psychological support to adjust to the intrusive treatment.”

To read more about Amanda’s campaign, please visit her website. You can sponsor her weight loss efforts through her JustGiving page or text BLFA73 and the amount to 70070, for example BLFA73 £1 (or add in a different amount such as £3, £5, £10, £20 etc).

Further information

Amanda is being supported by Tom Wood, a former Team GB athlete and Bristol-based trained counsellor, who offers a holistic approach called Fit for Life, a progressive, measurable, month-on-month, physical and psychological fitness plan.

Her nutritional advice is provided by Brainbox Coaching, who aim to help people feel confident and happy in their own skin with nutritional changes that are healthy and sustainable, no quick fix diets but lifestyle changes; with the ultimate aim of coaching to help clients develop the toolkit they need to sustain long term changes.

Hilary Allen is Amanda’s Lightning Process coach and hypnotherapist; she has been helping Amanda prepare mentally for her challenge and overcome resistance to exercise.

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