10 Tips to help you adjust to your CPAP machine
If you have sleep apnea, your most effective treatment option is likely a CPAP machine. This device uses a mask and air pressure to keep your airways open while you sleep so you can get the rest you need.
Many first-time users go through an adjustment period with their CPAP machines. They find the mask uncomfortable or claustrophobic, and they have a hard time sleeping. According to Sleep Review, “From one-third to more than 50% of patients either stop using their CPAP machine or never bother to fill their prescription.”
But leaving your sleep apnea untreated can have serious health consequences.
Untreated sleep apnea can lead to…
- A weakened immune system
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Mood disorders
- Excessive daytime fatigue or drowsiness
- Irritability and impatience
Sleep apnea patients need treatment.
So if you have sleep apnea and are struggling with your CPAP machine, here are some tips to help you adjust.
1. Take time to relax before putting on the mask.
Wearing a CPAP mask may cause stress or anxiety for some patients. This is especially likely during the first few days of CPAP use. Before putting on the mask, try relaxing your mind and body to help ease into the process.
You can do some light yoga or meditation before bed. You can take a warm bath or shower. Or you can practice deep breathing exercises, such as the following:
Inhale deeply through your nose and focus on filling your belly with air. Hold your breath for a count of five. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat this pattern for 3-5 minutes or until you feel calmer and more relaxed.
Progressive muscle relaxation
The technique helps ease tension and restore balance by tensing and releasing specific muscle groups in your body. Start by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths to clear your head.
Next, direct your attention to specific areas of your body. Start with your feet and work your way up to your head. As you shift your focus from area to area, pause for a moment and tense each muscle group while holding your breath. Then, release your muscles and take an even deeper breath. Continue this process until you work through every area of your body.
2. Wear your mask during the day.
Wearing your CPAP mask for an hour or so during the day can help you get comfortable with how it feels. Put the mask on while you’re doing something mindless, like watching TV.
Then, try using the mask and hose with the machine turned on for short periods during the day. This will help you get used to how your CPAP feels and sounds and should help you fall asleep more easily when you use your CPAP at night.
3. Choose the right mask based on your preferred sleeping position.
CPAP masks come in different designs. And depending on your preferred sleeping position, one type of mask may suit you better than another. The three most common mask types are…
- Full-face mask – This is the bulkiest type. It covers both the nose and the mouth.
- Nasal mask – This type is less bulky and covers only the nose.
- Nasal pillow mask – This is the least obtrusive type. It covers only the nostrils and it has a soft shell.
Some CPAP users are limited in the type of mask they can use. But if you have options, you can choose the mask that works best with your preferred sleeping position.
Sleeping on your side is the best way to sleep if you have sleep apnea. This position prevents gravity from affecting your airway the way it does when you sleep on your back.
Side sleepers can use either a nasal pillow mask or a nasal mask. These mask types can still keep their seal and prevent air leaks if you have the side of your face against the pillow. Some side-sleepers may also need to use a CPAP-friendly pillow.
If you sleep on your back, you can use any type of CPAP mask. Sleeping on your back is the worst position if you have sleep apnea, however. This position makes it more likely for gravity to cause your airway to collapse while you sleep. But if your doctor hasn’t recommended sleeping in a different position, you can use any type of mask.
This sleeping position is the least common but has the most concerns regarding mask type. When you sleep on your stomach, your mask may press into your face, causing air leaks and discomfort. Additionally, your mask may force your head into a stressful position, resulting in neck pain or stiffness.
For these reasons, if you sleep on your stomach, the nasal pillow mask is the most comfortable option. But as with side sleepers, you may still need to use a special CPAP-friendly pillow to accommodate the mask.
4. Use a CPAP with a “ramp” feature.
Some CPAP users have trouble tolerating the forced air. To help with this, some machines have a feature that allows you to adjust the pressure settings. You can set the machine so it starts with low air pressure. Then, as you sleep, you can have the machine slowly increase the pressure to your prescribed settings.
You can also talk to your doctor about CPAP machines that constantly adjust the air pressure. An example of this type of machine is a bi-level positive airway pressure (BPAP) machine. This device delivers more air pressure when you inhale and less air pressure when you exhale, which may be more comfortable for some sleep apnea patients.
5. Make sure the mask fits properly.
If your mask doesn’t fit properly, you won’t get the full air pressure you need. You can irritate your skin and make your nose stuffy. And if the air pushes into your eyes, they can become dry or teary.
Your CPAP mask should fit snugly and form a seal against your skin. But it shouldn’t feel too tight or uncomfortable.
If you have facial hair, you may have trouble getting the mask to form a proper seal. You may need to use a nasal pillow mask, which covers the least amount of your face. Or you may need to trim your mustache or beard.
CPAP masks come in different sizes, and they are usually adjustable. Talk to your doctor or CPAP supplier about how to adjust your mask so you can get the best fit for your face. Also, if your weight changes significantly, you may need to try a different mask size.
6. Prevent dry mouth.
Using a CPAP can make your mouth dry, especially if you sleep with your mouth open. To prevent dry mouth, you can wear a chin strap with your mask to help keep your mouth closed as you sleep. Additionally, you can wear a full-face mask or attach a CPAP-heated humidifier to the air pressure machine.
7. Keep your CPAP machine clean.
To keep your device working correctly and prevent infection, you need to keep your CPAP machine clean. Talk to your doctor or CPAP machine supplier about the best way to do this and follow their instructions.
8. Block any disturbing noise.
Most modern CPAP machines are silent or make very little noise. But if your machine makes sounds that disturb your sleep, make sure the machine’s air filter is clean and clear. If that doesn’t help, have your doctor or CPAP supplier check that everything is in working order with your machine.
If there’s nothing wrong with your machine, try wearing earplugs or using a white noise machine to drown out the sound from your CPAP machine. You can also place the machine as far away from your bed as possible. And talk to your doctor about adding extra tubing to your machine to muffle its sounds.
9. Develop good sleep habits.
Adjusting to your CPAP machine is easier if you have good sleep habits in general. Develop a bedtime routine that you can perform each night to help you fall asleep quickly and easily.
For example, you could start by taking a warm bath or shower to help your body relax. Or you could practice deep breathing or listen to soothing music – whatever activity helps you feel calm.
Then, you could start getting ready for bed by brushing your teeth and putting on your pajamas. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, even on weekends.
Also, avoid drinking alcohol or consuming anything with caffeine in it too close to bedtime. And stop using devices with screens, like your phone and television, at least an hour before you go to bed.
When your mind and body feel calm and ready for sleep, you can fall asleep with greater ease when using your CPAP machine.
10. Have patience.
Using a CPAP machine is an adjustment. And you may need to take some time to get used to your new device. But don’t get discouraged. Keep using your machine every night and when you nap. Within a few weeks, you should feel more comfortable using your machine and you’ll feel much better rested as well.
Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website: MeghnaDassani.com.
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