How to Sleep Comfortably Using a CPAP Machine for Sleep Apnea
CPAP Trouble and Troubleshooting
If you have recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea—and have been prescribed a regimen of using a CPAP machine—you may wonder whether you will be actually be able to sleep with a hose attached to your face. You may wonder how you will deal with the air that is being forced into your nose. It doesn't seem right that the thing that is supposed to help you sleep at night is something that looks so uncomfortable and may actually make it harder to sleep in a different way.
I am here to tell you that it is actually possible to sleep with an "elephant nose." I've listed some common issues, as well as ways you can troubleshoot and fix these issues, so that you can finally get some rest.
Finding the Right Mask
The first thing you need to do is get the right machine and mask. You will receive some help from your doctor, the sleep study lab, and/or the home medical equipment provider. It is very important to ask questions and determine your treatment options and try out different masks so that you can find one that is just right for you. For example, if you are claustrophobic, you may be able to get a system that is lightweight and takes up little space.
It may be hard to make a choice though, since there is so much to learn, and it is difficult to determine how the combination of pieces will work together while you are sleeping. Since masks are disposable and will be changed every few months, you may want to keep your options open and try out a different mask when you get a replacement mask. Remember that different brands may fit differently, so if you are not satisfied with one company's products, try another.
It is very important that the size of the mask is correct for your face. If you get nasal pillows that are too small for you, they will not provide a proper seal in your nose. If they are too big, they will hurt your nose. You may want to try different sizes until you find one that is comfortable for you.
Cycle of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Getting Used to the Mask
It may take awhile to simply get used to having a mask on your face. I have a few suggestions on how to handle this.
- Try wearing the mask while you are watching TV or reading. This will give you a chance to simply get used to having it on your face.
- Try using it when you are really tired and know you will likely fall asleep right away. You may be too tired to care that you have the mask on.
- Don't make yourself keep the mask on all night. If you find yourself getting up in the middle of the night and unable to go back to sleep because you can't find a comfortable sleeping position, it is all right to take it off. Eventually you want to get to a point where you leave it on all night, but you don't have to have to start that way on the very first day.
- Alternatively, you may find that it is better to make yourself wear it all night, every night, from the first time you use it. Some people find that the choice may make them "follow the rules" and making it optional makes it easy to take it off, while others may find that being forced to follow the rules makes them more resistant. Do whichever fits your temperament best.
Comfortable Sleeping Positions for CPAP Machine
It may take some time to get used to finding a sleeping position that is comfortable for you while wearing the mask and hose. Unfortunately, there is no right answer and no solution that will work for everyone; so you have to try out different options until you find the ones that work for you. Keep trying and be confident that you will find something that will work.
It is possible that positions you previously avoided because of your sleep apnea may be now available to you. If you previously found it hard to breathe when you were sleeping on your back, you may find that you can now sleep on your back comfortably. You may be able to sleep on your side, slightly turned away from the pillow.
Several patients have noted that they can get their CPAP supplies cheaper on their own, instead of going through a medical provider, even when their insurance company pays for part of the cost. Be sure to compare prices when ordering your supplies.
Some people have found that the hose gets in the way while they sleep, so they prefer to have a strap to hook up the hose to the wall, ceiling, or bedpost to keep it out of their way. Others like to have the hose facing down towards their body. They can simply let it lie on the bed coverings, or they can tie it to themselves using a belt, or strap it to their nightshirt.
There are many types of pillows you can try to help accommodate your face mask. While some people appreciate pillows that are specifically designed for face masks, others will be more comfortable using a feather pillow or other pillow designed for general use. You may want to try different pillows until you find one that works best for you.
Replacement of Supplies
Once you buy your CPAP machine, hose, mask, and any other supplies, your financial commitment is not finished. Fresh distilled water should be used every day. A lot of the equipment needs to be replaced regularly. Along with daily cleaning, changing your supplies on a regular basis will help you sleep more comfortably. Replacing them will prevent infection, prevent leaks, and avoid carbon dioxide buildup from a clogged exhalation port. Medicare and most private insurance companies allow for the supplies to be replaced on the schedule shown on the table. Be sure to check with your own insurance company to determine their particular schedule. Depending on the amount of your deductible and co-payment, you may also find that it is sometimes cheaper to purchase your own equipment from places like Amazon.
Every 3 Months
Every 6 Months
cushions & pillows
Troubleshooting: Too Noisy
There are several ways a CPAP machine will make noise. If air is escaping from your mask, it will make a loud noise. This can be caused by improper fit and a leak in the seal, as we discussed previously. To fix this, simply readjust the mask. If that doesn't work, try taking it completely off and putting it back on again. Sometimes it helps to start all over by turning off the machine, putting the mask back on, and then turning the machine back on again. Leakage can also happen when the mask begins to wear out. You will need to replace the mask to fix this.
There is also is a low humming sound created by the engine of the machine itself. The air coming into the mask may make a noise, and your breathing sounds may be amplified. These sounds are normal, and if they bother you, you may want to use a radio at a low volume to mask these noises until you become accustomed to them. Please note that newer models of the machine are much quieter than the older models.
The air coming out of the mask will also sound loud especially if it is hitting some bedding or a part of your body. You can try to adjust the bed coverings to keep them flattened against your body and avoid having the exhalation port of your mask directly facing an object to minimize that sound. There are face masks that claim to be quieter that you can try. For example, the Mirage Swift LT by Resmed claims to be "the quietest nasal pillow system on the market." Often, the masks with larger exhalation ports are quieter.
William Howard Taft Suffered From Sleep Apnea
Troubleshooting: Mask Won't Stay in Place
You may be worried that the mask will not stay in place while you are sleeping—and you may feel that you need to readjust your mask every time you change positions. Don't worry. The strapping on the mask is designed to stay in place even when you switch positions. A small amount of leakage is also normal and expected by your machine. It will increase the pressure so you receive the proper amount.
If you do have issues, you may want to try adjusting the straps so that they are tighter, but not too tight. If the mask does shift and rub on your face, it can cause skin irritation, and if you pull the headgear too tight, you will have sores and indentations on your skin.The headgear is also disposable and will wear out over time. If the fit is getting worse, you may consider replacing the headgear.
If the straps slip on your head because you are bald, or have short or slick hair, you might try wearing a baseball cap backwards on your head to sleep. This will hold down the strap. If you have long hair, you may want to keep your hair in a ponytail and bring up the pony tail above the strap to keep it in place. Although this adds yet another item you need to sleep with, it may work to keep you comfortable while sleeping.
For nasal pillows, using a water-based lubricant may make it easier on your nose and may help you achieve a better seal.
Troubleshooting: Feeling of Suffocation or Too Little Air
If you feel like you are not getting enough air, first be sure that you have turned on the machine. A small amount of air does come out while the machine is warming up, but you need to turn the pressure on to get enough air. If the machine is on, you may have a mask leak that is letting most of the air escape. If this is the case, you can readjust the mask or replace it. This may also be caused by getting the wrong machine. If you are finding it hard to breath against a steady stream of air, especially if you have asthma, you may need a Bi-level machine instead of a CPAP machine. This machine reduces the pressure when you are breathing out.
Troubleshooting: Other Issues
Waking Up With Dry Mouth or Throat. If you breathe through your mouth, you may wake up with a dry mouth or a sore throat. If this is the case, you can get a chin strap to help you breathe through your nose only. You may also consider getting a full face mask that covers the nose and the mouth if you cannot breathe through your nose due to chronic congestion.
Otherwise, it might have to do with the humidity. Getting a CPAP machine with a humidifier will help. Adjust the humidity settings higher and higher until you no longer wake up with a dry mouth.
Waking Up With Sinus Congestion or Pressure. Sinus congestion or pressure is probably due to your humidifier setting. Try adjusting it up or down until you find the setting that is best for you. You may even try to eliminate the humidifier altogether. If you have COPD, chronic bronchitis, asthma, chronic rhinitis, or other respiratory problems, you may find that a BiPap or Bi-level machine works better for you.
CPAP Mask Is Causing Irritation or Sores. The first thing you want to check is that you have a good fit on your mask. Make sure you purchased the right size and adjusted it properly to your face. After that, especially if you are using nasal pillows, you may find some irritation in your nose. Try using a water-based lubricant to act as a barrier between your skin and the pillows. If this is happening after you have had the mask for a while, you may need to clean it thoroughly or replace it.
Waking Up With Dry Eyes. Covering your eyes with an eye mask will keep your eyes protected from the air leaks and air from the machine.
CPAP Is Spitting Water Into Mask. Especially in the winter, condensation can form in the hose, making it seem like water is spitting out of the mask. This is called rainout. In order to prevent this, keep the CPAP machine lower than the bed and wrap the hose to insulate it. There are hose covers on the market in a variety or designs, or you can simply find some fabric and wrap it around the hose to fashion one yourself. The bonus of using these covers is that the hose will not feel cold against your skin. You can also place a hook on the ceiling or wall and hang the hose higher so that gravity keeps the condensation out of your mask.
How to Be Comfortable While Sleeping With a CPAP Mask
You may feel like you have to go through a lot of obstacles to find a way to sleep comfortably with a CPAP mask hooked up to a CPAP machine. Try to remember that the reasoning behind the setup is to help you reduce snoring, sleep better, and get more rest. It can also mitigate a lot of health problems. Realize that the effort is worth it because it will help the overall condition of your health.
Be patient and persistent while trying the tips and suggestions discussed in this article.
Good luck ... and good night!
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The chin strap will keep you from opening your mouth, since the nasal mask and nasal pillows makes it uncomfortable to breathe through your mouth.
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The hose holder keeps the CPAP hose tangle free and out of your way.
© 2012 Shasta Matova