Sleep apnea is nothing to snore at, especially since more than 18 million American adults suffer from it. There are a few different types of sleep apnea, but the most common is called obstructive, which means something is “obstructing” the airway while you sleep, i.e., throat muscles that are too relaxed, a large tongue or fatty tissue in the throat.
The following are a few examples of the consequences associated with the condition:
• Gasping or choking during your sleep
• Headaches in the morning
• Low sex drive
• Daytime tiredness or fatigue
• High blood pressure
• High body mass index (BMI)
• Memory problems
The good news is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy has proven very effective in helping people breathe better while they sleep, and therefore, wake feeling rested and ready to take on a day with revived energy.
The Ins & Outs of CPAP Use
The CPAP isn’t a complicated piece of machinery. It pumps air through a tube to a mask or nasal pillow to supply a steady air pressure that forces airways to stay open. To determine whether you could benefit from regular CPAP use, first confer with your family physician. Have a frank discussion regarding not only your own perceptions of your sleep quality, but also those of your spouse or partner. Oftentimes, snoring due to sleep apnea is loud enough to wake others.
Next, your doctor may order a sleep study assessment with a polysomnogram. This procedure records brain activity, eye movements, heart rate, blood pressure and other biologic measurements while you sleep. From this data, the physician and sleep study technician can determine if you should start using a CPAP. They also might order a second sleep study, this time using the CPAP to find the appropriate settings by checking your oxygen levels while on the apparatus.
General recommendations state you should utilize the CPAP machine every time you sleep, including naps. Adjusting to that might prove challenging, at least in the beginning. Some models offer a “ramp-up” option to ease into it. This starts the air pressure at a low setting and gradually ups it until you reach your prescribed level.
However, not everyone adjusts so smoothly. Here are some of the more common complaints about sleeping with a CPAP and suggestions for overcoming them.
• “I don’t like how my mask fits.”
This is probably the No. 1 reason why individuals don’t commit to using the CPAP regularly. Sleeping with a mask covering your face is not natural, and it can elicit a sense of claustrophobia or make it difficult to read in bed, especially if you wear glasses.
Possible solution: Try a nasal pillow, which fits under your nose and covers less geography on your face. However, be aware that these may not work well if you move around a lot while you slumber. Also, you don’t have to throw in the mask so easily. Different sizes are available that might fit your face better.
• “I just can’t get comfortable, and it comes off in the middle of the night.”
You know the CPAP is going to help you breathe better throughout the night, but having it on your face just stresses you out. In fact, you may even pull it off in your sleep.
Possible solution: Learn to relax! Create a bedtime routine that sets you up for total relaxation—take a hot bath or shower, put on comfy pajamas, turn off the television and computer, and focus on breathing with the mask. All of this sends signals to your body that rest is on the way. To ensure the mask stays on, invest in a chin strap.
• “My CPAP leaves me with dry mouth.”
This particular side effect is common among people who sleep with their mouths open. However, it also can happen simply from wearing the mask or if there’s a leak.
Possible solution: For mouth-breathers, check with your CPAP supplies store about a chin strap that will help keep your mouth closed. If that’s not the case, then inspect the mask to make sure there aren’t any leaks or eroded seals. Some machines feature a heated humidifier attachment to solve the problem. Also, your doctor might suggest applying a nasal saline spray before bed.
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• “The mask and bands irritate my skin.”
Some people may have an allergic-like reaction to the material of the mask or bands.
Possible solution: First things first, make sure you keep the equipment clean. Dirt and/or bacteria certainly can irritate one’s skin. Also, make it a habit to wash your face before donning the mask. That way you’re not transferring dirt onto the mask. If neither of these improves the situation, look into different models. Maybe you’re a candidate for a nasal pillow instead of a full facial mask.
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• “The CPAP just doesn’t seem to work as well as it use to.”
As with anything mechanical, there is possibility for operational failure.
Possible solution: Periodically replace your CPAP supplies, specifically filters, masks and hoses. To prolong their functionality, wash out the mask and humidifier daily.
• “I always wake up feeling congested.”
According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sinusitis, sneezing, runny nose or congestion are common morning-after symptoms of CPAP use.
Possible solution: The heated humidifier feature apparently helps alleviate many of these conditions. Also, a nasal saline spray can help clear out sinus passages. If that still doesn’t provide relief, consult with your physician. Sometimes a steroid nasal spray is the answer.