Your doctor has told you that you need to use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine while you’re sleeping to treat your obstructive sleep apnea. If you’re like most people who receive this news, you’ve got mixed feelings about it.
"Most people are not thrilled," says Meir Kryger, MD, director of sleep medicine research and education at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, Conn., and a researcher for Respironics and ResMed, which develop and manufacture sleep apnea devices. "Some are relieved there is a treatment for what they have."
If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea -- a condition in which relaxation of the muscles around the tongue and throat causes the tissues to block airflow to the lungs while you sleep -- there are a number of treatment options to discuss with your doctor. Two of the most widely used and most effective are continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and dental appliances, or mouth guards.
Sleep apnea is marked by brief but repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. The CPAP typically includes a face or nasal mask that pumps a flow of air into the nasal passages to keep the airway open. But some people abandon the machine before they can get used to it. In a study of 639 people published in 2010, 19% had stopped using the machine after four years and 30% had stopped within 10 years.
But adjusting to CPAP can make your sleep -- and life – better, especially if you have severe sleep apnea. Read on to get sleep specialists’ top five tips on how you can make peace with the device.
Focus on the Health Benefits of CPAP
To help people stay focused on the big picture, Nancy Collop, MD, president-elect of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, explains what is happening in your body.
"Your body is in this constant struggle at night between breathing and sleeping," says Collop, who also directs the university sleep center. "Fortunately, breathing wins, but it wins at the expense of your sleep."
Lack of sleep causes daytime sleepiness, which can make it difficult to function at work and elsewhere. But lost sleep can also have an adverse effect on aging, diabetes, and blood pressure.
The purpose of the CPAP is to take away the struggle between breathing and sleep. And the majority of CPAP users report immediate symptom relief, according to the National Sleep Foundation. They also report increased energy and better mental alertness during the day.
"Very few people like CPAP, but they love the outcome," Kryger tells WebMD. Kryger says that using CPAP improves heart rhythms in some people. (Abnormal heart rhythms can increase the risk of stroke.) CPAP use may also reduce high blood pressure, at least a little.
Many people also feel that using CPAP makes them less of a danger to themselves and others – when driving, for example, or operating machinery. "In terms of safety issues, they are not going to be a hazard due to daytime sleepiness," Kryger says.
Consider CPAP a Gift to Your Bed Partner
Often, the bed partner of someone with obstructive sleep apnea has a sleep problem too -- brought on by the constant awakenings and snoring of the person with apnea. The interruptions can be bad enough to drive the partner from the bedroom altogether, some research suggests. So Kryger tells people the treatment will likely improve their lives and the lives of those they love.
In return for the gift of better sleep, you might ask your partner not to pressure you about using the device. In a study published in Sleep and Breathing, researchers found that people whose spouses pressured them to use the CPAP actually used it less often.