For those who have been newly diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS), learning to sleep through the night with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine can seem more challenging than keeping up with all of the acronyms. If you’re not familiar with the sounds, mask, and airflow, figuring out how to include it into your sleep routine can take some getting used to.
While it may not be the most convenient contraption to sleep with, it’s an essential part of your health. If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea may increase your chances of additional health problems such as diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure.
With roughly 22 million Americans suffering from sleep apnea, you won’t be alone in your search for the best way to sleep during treatment. Here are 12 tips that will help you learn to sleep with your new CPAP machine.
1. Choose the right mask
The number one sleep factor when it comes to sleeping with a CPAP machine in your room is actually the mask. Over the last 30 years, these machines have come a long way as far as comfort and flexibility based on individual needs. Because all masks are not made the same, it’s essential to work with your doctor and sleep expert in order to find the best mask for you. There are four main categories of sleep masks which are:
- Full face – covers both the nose and mouth
- Nasal – covers just the nose
- Nasal cradle – eliminates contact with the nose bridge
- Nasal pillow or prong – minimizes contact with the face
Some questions to ask yourself include:
- What is your sleeping position? Some masks that are designed for side sleepers can vary from those for back sleepers.
- Would a nasal pillow be better? This is an ideal mask option for those with claustrophobia or people who don’t want marks on their face.
- Do you breathe through your mouth when you sleep? Some masks cover both the nose and the mouth, which can be useful to prevent dry mouth (see below).
- What size do you need? Each brand has its own sizing or way of being manufactured that may require you to try different options.
- Do you move around a lot in your sleep? You may need a mask with more secure coverage.
- Do you have facial hair? Finding a mask that won’t leak due to the uneven surface will be best.
Finding the best mask may take some trial and error, but it is a crucial aspect in order to achieve the necessary health benefits and get some sleep at the same time.
Ensuring that your mask is the proper fit will also help to eliminate other issues such as sores and skin irritation. An ill-fitting mask will rub or put pressure on your face where the straps rest. If you find that this is happening to you, try fixing the straps, making sure that they are not too tight or too loose. If you can’t adjust the straps to fit correctly, you may need to look into a different mask.
2. Look Into A Ramp Feature
Many people struggle to adjust to the pressure of the airflow at first. The benefit of including a ramp feature to your CPAP machine is that the airflow builds gradually, giving you a chance to work your way up to full pressure. Some devices even have the availability to increase pressure after it detects that you have fallen asleep.
Consult with your sleep specialist to learn the pressure increase intervals and how often you should reset the ramp. Because each person is different, it will depend on the pressure that you require for sleep as well as several other individual factors, such as how long it takes for you to fall asleep.
If you think that you will have difficulty getting to sleep with your CPAP machine, it would be helpful to check with the manufacturer of your preferred machine to ensure that it is equipped with a ramp feature option.
3. Prevent Dry Mouth
One complaint that CPAP machine users find is that they wake up with dry mouth after using it throughout the night. This can be uncomfortable and frustrating and can lead to discontinuing the use of the machine. This condition is incredibly common for those who sleep on their back, sleep with their mouth open, or have an ill-fitting mask.
Another reason for dry mouth is a leakage in the mask, leading roughly 45% of users to discontinue their CPAP therapy. Complications from dry mouth include difficulty eating, headaches, or bad breath.
If the fit of your mask isn’t the problem, there are a number of solutions to dry mouth, including:
- A chin strap. This will help to keep your mouth closed and prevent the desert-like feeling during the night or when you wake up.
- A full-face mask. If you still haven’t decided which mask to try, but you know that you are likely to suffer from dry mouth, a full-face mask is your best bet.
- A humidifier. Some CPAP machines are equipped with heated humidifiers, which may help with the dryness because the air will be warm or room temperature.
4. Check Your Pillow
For side sleepers especially, it is important to sleep with a pillow that does not obstruct the position and comfort of your face mask and hose. Specifically designed CPAP bed pillows can help you with this problem. Some key features of a CPAP pillow are:
- Recessed bottom and sides
- Hose stabilizer
- Center dimple
Because they range in price, dimensions, fill, and thickness, it can take some research to determine what you are looking for and which pillow is best for you.
Not only are CPAP pillows great for keeping your mask and hose in place, but they are also designed for proper spine alignment as well as support of your head and neck. However, if you don’t feel that you need a specific pillow, or want to give it a try without one first, a down pillow can be flexible enough to allow comfort with the mask.
5. Test It Out For Short Periods First
At first, learning to sleep with the mask on your face can be challenging. Most of us are not used to having something strapped to our face while we sleep, and the initial discomfort can be a significant cause of sleeplessness. To help get you on your way to comfort, try wearing the mask when you aren’t sleeping. If you are watching TV or doing a simple chore, practice wearing it during these activities.
Testing it out before you’re actually trying to sleep will also help with feelings of claustrophobia. As with anything else, getting used to wearing the mask will take some time so building up in this way will prepare you for the more extended periods as you sleep. If your claustrophobia is particularly bad, try holding the mask alone up to your face. As you become familiar with it, build up to including the hose, straps, and finally hooking it up to the machine.
It’s also important to use your CPAP machine during naps. Since they’re shorter, a nap is an excellent time frame to practice wearing your mask and sleeping with the CPAP machine nearby.
6. Practice Relaxation Exercises
For some people, the thought of using a CPAP machine and dealing with the anxiety that comes along with their sleep apnea is enough to disrupt their sleep. If the whole process leaves you feeling frustrated and restless, try incorporating relaxation techniques into your nightly routine. Some soothing pre-sleep activities can be:
- Progressive muscle relaxation – With PMR, you can lay in bed and tense different muscle groups in your body, then relax them, helping to release tension all over.
- Meditation – Meditation for just a few minutes before bed can help to promote calmness in the mind as you get ready for rest.
- Take a warm shower – A warm shower will help by increasing your body temperature, which then lowers and encourages rest.
- Reading – When you are first getting used to wearing your sleep mask, it may be helpful to read for a few minutes in bed to wind down and use the mask while distracting yourself with something relaxing.
Relaxation exercises will also be beneficial if you are struggling with claustrophobia or attempting to adjust to the pressure of the airflow.
7. Wear Earplugs
While most machines today are virtually silent, sensitive sleepers may still hear the hum of the motor or the sound of the airflow in their sleep. After you’ve checked to ensure that the machine’s filter is clean and unobstructed, using earplugs will help to lessen the remaining noise.
Another option, if you don’t want to wear earplugs all night, is to use your headphones to listen to soothing music or an easy podcast. As you drift off, you can remove them, leaving your ears free for the rest of the night.
8. Use A Sleep Mask
It isn’t uncommon for some air to escape from the hose. While you want to avoid this as much as possible by adjusting to the tube to fit correctly, some people may find that even a little bit of air can have a significant effect.
If you wake with dry eyes or are sensitive to the sensation of the air that comes out, a sleep mask will help. In addition, sleep masks are said to improve sleep quality by increasing the darkness needed for us to sleep well.
9. Add A Second White Noise Machine
If the thought of adding earplugs or headphones to your already cumbersome face mask leaves you feeling more vulnerable or constricted than you’d care to be, considering bringing in a sound machine or white noise machine. By playing your choice of soothing sounds to help you fall asleep, you can tune out the sound of the CPAP machine, while calming yourself at the same time.
An additional machine can also be helpful for your partner if they are struggling with the noise of the device. Perhaps if you let them choose the sounds, they’ll be less inclined to complain when it’s time to get in bed! (Earplugs and a sleep mask are also great suggestions for your partner if the noise affects their sleep.)
An alternative to a white noise or sound machine is using a fan to mask the noise. In the warmer summer months, this will be useful to tune out the extra sounds.
10. Ensure Proper CPAP Machine Placement
For those who place their machine on a hard surface, such as a nightstand, the noise may not come so much from the CPAP machine itself but could be coming from the slight vibration against whatever it is resting on. To help cushion and minimize the sounds, place a thin folded towel or mousepad underneath it, experimenting with thickness. This will help mute the excess vibration that may be keeping you awake.
In addition to padding for noise, make sure that the machine is placed at least six inches from walls, curtains, or anything that will hinder the airflow into it. If you have seasonal allergies, avoid putting the machine under a window. While this seems like the best way to get clean airflow, bringing allergens in will only create more problems.
If you find that you are having nightly issues with rain out (when the water build-up in the hose drains into the mask), make sure to place the machine at a slightly lower level than your head. This way, the water will flow back into the machine, rather than the mask. If possible, avoid placing it on the floor where it is more likely to be kicked over or stepped on.
11. Keep It Clean
To ensure that your CPAP machine continues to function correctly, be sure to clean it regularly and replace the accessories as needed. Washing the face cushion daily will remove oils and dirt that are transferred from your skin as you wear it, and will keep the mask fitting smoothly. When you replace the accessories on a regular schedule, you can maintain the comfort and functionality of the machine.
By keeping up with cleaning and regular replacement of the accessories, you can prolong the life of your CPAP machine, helping you maintain consistent treatment.
12. Set An Alarm
For some people, sleeping with a CPAP machine isn’t much of a problem because they wake in the morning to find that they have taken the mask off or turned the machine off in their sleep. In the beginning, it’ll be a natural reaction to remove something that you feel is disrupting your rest.
If you continue to wake up without the sleep mask that you know you put on before bed, try setting an alarm clock at regular intervals throughout the night. This will give you a chance to make sure that the machine is still on and that your mask is still comfortably in place.
As time goes on, you will begin to be more familiar with the sounds and feel of the CPAP machine and mask. Once you start waking up with everything still in place, you can set fewer and fewer alarms until you no longer need them.
What to Avoid
Following the tips above will get you going in the right direction for a comfortable sleep with your CPAP machine, but before you head to bed, here are a few things you should stay away from as well.
- Sleeping pills. For those with insomnia, sleeping pills are often a cause of worsened sleep apnea. Speak to your doctor for alternative options to help you get to sleep.
- Overeating. Obesity is a significant factor in sleep apnea. Eating a healthier diet and incorporating exercise will help to improve your condition.
- Excessive drinking. Heavy drinking, particularly in the evening, causes the muscles in the throat to relax and prevents the brain from functioning correctly during sleep.
- Smoking. Smoking can cause the upper airway of the throat to swell, making your sleep apnea worse.
A CPAP machine is a commitment to your health. Considering the time and effort that is involved in rectifying your sleep apnea, it’s vital to steer clear of the above activities so as not to hinder or counter the effects.
When you are getting used to sleeping with a CPAP machine, the most important thing for you to remember is that it may take time. Remaining consistent and patient will help to get you through to sleeping comfortably in no time. Keep in mind that the first two letters in CPAP stand for “continuous” and “positive,” so if your machine can do it – you can too.