Getting to know your CPAP therapy can be awkward and uncomfortable, just like it can be when you are getting to know a perfect stranger.
However, the benefits to a positive relationship with your sleep apnea treatment far outweigh the risks of untreated sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a chronic sleep disorder that requires treatment, and there is no cure for it. Though CPAP side effects may dog your initial efforts at therapy, they can be addressed.
CPAP is still the most commonly prescribed of all the sleep apnea treatment options. It's in your best interest to give your treatment for sleep apnea the benefit of the doubt, even if, at first, you aren't feeling the love. Over time, your CPAP therapy can go from being a perfect stranger in your life to a favored sidekick.
Here are some ways to "make friends" with your CPAP machine and equipment.
Spend quality time together
Wear your mask at other times
If you have some time during the day, when you'll be doing something quiet like watching TV, wear your CPAP mask (without the therapy) to get used to the way it feels on your face. CPAP acclimation problems are typically temporary; eventually you do adjust to wearing the mask.
Be loyal and regular
Wear your mask and use your machine every night, and use it for as long as you are able. At first, this might be only half time, but eventually you'll achieve full-time usage. Taking it slow is acceptable.
If you travel, there's no reason not to take it with you. Most CPAP machines come with travel cases and are portable and lightweight. Invest in a portable CPAP machine if you're frequently away from a reliable electrical source.
Don't keep secrets
It's almost impossible to mischaracterize your usage these days; the new CPAP machines come with wireless remote tracking to measure your compliance and record therapy readings.
Still, if you aren't using your machine as much as you know you should, ask yourself why. And then, ask for help. Most problems with CPAP usage can be fixed with the help of a savvy sleep specialist. They won't mind answering your questions. Many of these people are CPAP users, themselves. They get it!
Be open about your CPAP problems
Don't be ashamed if your first weeks using CPAP aren't perfect. It can take a couple of mask trials and multiple adjustments in pressure settings and even delivery systems to find the perfect match. You should be comfortable, your mask should fit, and you should have few to no problems using it on a nightly basis. If this isn't the case, ask for help.
Sometimes people will be afraid to admit that they've forgotten operating instructions given to them at the sleep clinic, or have confused the steps for turning on the machine.
Even if your sleep clinic provided diagrams or videos to help you at home, if you can't make sense of them, call your doctor and get more training.
Bring a loved one with you, if that helps.
When something's wrong, look into it
If your machine readings suddenly show problems with leakage or higher-than-acceptable apnea counts, don't just ignore these changes; be proactive and ask for advice and support.
Also, ask for help if any parts are not working right. If anything makes a funny noise, or you feel air leaking out of the mask or the tubing where it shouldn't be, or if your nightstand is flooded every morning, call your durable medical equipment (DME) provider. They have most replacement parts and CPAP filters available and are trained to help you with mask fit or compliance issues.
Listen to your intuition
Ideally, over a few weeks' time, you should feel more energized during the day and symptoms of other health concerns might also find some relief. However:
If you notice you have more gas and feel more bloated, this is a sign you are swallowing air. This is a problem with a solution. Ask for help.
If you have irritated red markings on your face every morning, this is a sign the mask is too tight or ill fitting. This is also a problem with a solution. Ask for help.
If you feel even more sleepy during the day, it could mean your pressure settings are inadequate. Talk to your doctor about any continuing physical complaints following the use of your CPAP that you feel should have improved.
Be a thoughtful user
Be precise about positioning the mask. Learn to work with CPAP tubing to prevent tangles. Don't overstretch headgear purposefully. Keep a calendar for replenishing CPAP supplies. Use the ramp feature, when available. Every morning, make sure all is in working order for the next night.
If you struggle, find a support system. Users who've been in the trenches for years have invaluable experience they would gladly share with you.
Be a sleep hygiene hero
If you really want to get a good night's sleep, you should think about improving your overall sleep environment and sleep habits. Treating sleep apnea involves more than just using the therapy. Poor sleep hygiene can be to blame for many sleep problems. For instance:
Is your bedroom properly dark and quiet?
Did you put away your cell phone before bedtime?
Are you still enjoying late-night meals, bedtime smokes, and evening cocktails, even though they can disrupt sleep?
Is the room too warm or too cool?
Is your pet keeping you up all night?
Don't give up!
Your CPAP is not a sometimes therapy, but one you need every time you sleep. Sleep apnea doesn't go away on its own, but can get much worse, requiring a therapy like CPAP for treatment. But it can't help you if you don't use it.
CPAP can take some time to adjust to, however. It's the rare patient who is a perfect user after just one night. The transition into CPAP therapy is generally a window of around 90 days. This is a more reasonable grace period for those new to using CPAP. If you can stay faithful to it, the reality is this: the longer you use it, the more successful you will be in both treating your sleep apnea and feeling better overall.
Infidelity is dangerous
Sleep apnea machines are set to specific pressures as determined by individual users; somebody else's CPAP settings are not going to be any good for your sleep apnea. You could actually do more harm than good by using anything but the CPAP equipment and supplies given to you by your sleep specialist.
In addition, serious hygiene problems can come with using other people's equipment. If you are struggling with CPAP, go to your sleep specialist first, not your friends or family. You aren't simply "stuck with" your therapy. If it's not working for you, your doctor can help you find a better, safer match.
Practice the golden rule
Do unto your machine as...
This means following a protocol for cleaning CPAP and performing regular maintenance. It also means being aware that some parts of your system require replacement and replenishment. In addition, be a guardian angel and keep your sleep apnea machine out of the reach of pets and small children.
Remember why you came together in the first place
If you want to live a healthier, longer life, you can do so with the help of sleep apnea solutions such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. The risks of untreated sleep apnea far exceed any challenges you may experience while adjusting to your treatment.
Be kind to your therapy because it is not only helping you correct your sleep breathing disorder, but it is also going to offer you relief for related problems (such as daytime sleepiness or high blood pressure) and may even prevent other even more serious ones (such as depression, brain damage, or heart disease).
There's so much you can do to achieve success using CPAP as your sleep apnea treatment, but it still requires you to be proactive with your therapy. With patience and vigilance, you will adapt and may eventually neverwant to sleep without your machine.