Winter is coming, and so is the weather that comes with it: high winds, heavy ran, snow, and ice, all of which can cause the power grid to go down during the night. Blackouts are an inconvenience for everyone, but they're particularly worrisome for people who rely on electricity to run their medical equipment.
CPAP users fall into this category. Without a steady source of power or a ready backup option (like a battery pack), your CPAP machine will stop running when the power goes out. You'll be getting by without treatment for your apnea until the grid comes back online.
Similarly, if you're traveling and you don't have a reliable source of compatible electric current for your machine, you won't be able to comply with your therapy. (For example, if you're in a country with different outlets, or if you're camping or residing in a temporary shelter.)
No power to your CPAP machine means you'll be living with untreated apnea and snoring until electricity becomes available again. Anyone who's lived with obstructive sleep apnea knows what that means.
Missing your OSA therapy: risks and dangers
If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), going even a single night without your CPAP therapy can be a major source of stress. Once you become accustomed to the sleep mask, you may struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep without the continuous airway pressure.
You may also experience insomnia brought on by worries and fears: now that you've become educated about the risks of not treating your obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you simply can't sleep without that CPAP. Every second that goes by without oxygen, every minute or hour without REM sleep, is another check mark in your daily tally of health risks.
You're right to be worried. The dangers of untreated OSA are no fun to live with, never mind think about. Not treating your apnea can increase your risk of diseases and conditions like:
Untreated OSA is also dangerous because the regular cessations of breathing you experience during apnea events leads to sleep deprivation and hypoxia (low blood oxygen).
Hypoxia prevents your body from healing and stops your brain from functioning properly. In the short-term, it can cause impaired vigilance, difficulty performing daily tasks, and poor decisions-making and reaction times.
Sleep deprivation like this becomes dangerous when operating heavy machinery like an automobile or workplace equipment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone with untreated OSA is three times more likely to have a workplace accident or sustain an injury while on the job. Undiagnosed OSA can lead to a 20 percent increase in the risk for sleep-related traffic accidents.
Some other frightening stats:
Cancer patients with untreated obstructive sleep apnea are four times more likely to die when compared to those without OSA or who treat their OSA proactively.
Surgical patients with untreated OSA are more likely to experience respiratory failure while under general anesthesia.
Untreated OSA makes you more likely to suffer from chronic kidney disease.
Long-term, not treating your apnea can also lead to a much greater risk of mortality. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), people with moderate to severe OSA are "four times more likely to die when [sleep apnea] is left untreated in the long term."
These facts and figures, especially that last one, are scary. And scary thoughts are precisely the types that like to run through your mind at 3:00 AM in the morning, when the lights have gone out and the winds are howling at the door.
When your CPAP machine goes offline, even for half a night, it's no joke. Interrupting your therapy directly affects your health and safety, and in some cases, the safety of the people around you.
How you'll feel if your CPAP fails
In addition to the serious health risks and dangers from missing your CPAP therapy, there's also how you feel without a good night's sleep. Remember life before you started treating your apnea? Those daily side effects will come back.
After a night without your therapy, you may experience:
- a sore throat
- difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
- daytime sleepiness
- cognitive problems like grogginess, brain fog, and trouble making decisions
- hypersensitivity to pain
For many people, these day-to-day side effects are reason enough to dread losing power to the CPAP.
Worst-case scenario: can you die without power to your CPAP?
This is a common worry. Some people become concerned that if their CPAPs lose power in the night, they may suffocate in their sleep. For the great majority of people (users who are not severely disabled or taking heavy medication that prevents them awakening), the answer is no; you will not die if you lose power to your CPAP machine.
If you are like most people, you will wake up when the CPAP machine stops. But even if you don't, you'll be fine. Your apnea mask is designed to let you breathe room air if the continuous air stops. You don't need to worry about breathing in the exhaled CO2; built-in ports in your mask release it for you.
It's extraordinarily rare for a CPAP user to die from an interrupted session of therapy. Your sleep deprivation side effects will return, though, and your therapy compliance statistics may be affected, which can cause its own headache.
Power outages are a more serious issue for people with moderate to severe OSA who live in areas hit by bad storms, or in places where the grid simply takes longer to fix (like very rural areas or large cities). If you're without electricity for days, weeks, or even up to a month, that could mean long stretches of sleep deprivation, which can pose a much greater risk to your health.
What's your CPAP backup plan?
If you don't have a plan for continuing your apnea therapy during power outages, you may want to make one now, before the weather starts getting dramatic. The best way to safeguard your CPAP therapy against sudden losses of electricity is to get a CPAP battery backup system in place. Many users in regions prone to blackouts or brownouts purchase these backups to ensure continuity of their therapy.
CPAP battery packs are also great options for travelers and campers. Check your insurance records: if you've met your deductible for the year, you may even be able to get your insurance plan to cover the cost.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine