It was a little over four years ago that I received by diagnosis of severe sleep apnea. It came as a surprise; though I snored and had issues with being tired I had not expected that this would happen. I started CPAP therapy and this gave me my life back. So now that it has been four years I thought I would put together a small post sharing what I learned about making this therapy work effectively. Before we continue, these are simply my personal experiences. I am not a medical professional and you should always consult with a medical professional about any therapy you are engaged in.
1) The Right Mask
First and foremost in getting the most of your CPAP therapy is finding the right mask for you face and your sleeping habits. Personally I started nasal pillows, which isn’t even really a mask. This was a device that affixed right under my nose and plugged directly into the nostrils. I thought it might work best because of the small profile, however I tend to open my mouth during my slumber, and this dropped my pressure below therapeutic levels. Even with a chinstrap I couldn’t keep my mouth closed. (A symptom I am sure many would say it equally true when I am awake.) This also ruled out the nose only masks. I tried several nose & Mouth masks before I found one with a gel form that sealed nicely against my skin without requiring too much pressure.
So if you first few masks don’t work for you, keep looking. There are all sorts of masks with all sorts of materials. Keep at it until you find the right one.
2) A Clean Mask
Most instructions that come with the masks advise cleaning on a weekly basis, but this may be too infrequent. Each night you use the mask oils from your skin become affixed in a thin layer on the contact surfaces, degrading the seal. I have found that by purchasing CPAP mask wipes, I can clean the contact surfaces each night and improve the seal. This reduces how tight the mask needs to be when worn, and improves the general effectiveness of the therapy.
3) A Shorn Face
If you’re male, and particularly if you are hirsute and given to ‘five o’clock’ shadow, it would be prudent to shave before bed. Just like gas masks, sleep apnea therapy masks do not function well with beards and unshorn skin. You see a common theme appearing in my advise, getting a good seal. The point of the therapy is raising the pressure in you airways so that you have unobstructed breathing and you can keep properly oxygenated. A good seal is critical to obtaining that needed pressure.
4) The Right Accessories
The mask and your skin are the most critical elements in securing good therapy, but making your sleep comfortable can sometimes be a matter of the correct ancillary devices. I myself tumbled and turn in my sleep, when I first started my CPAP therapy I often woke myself either tanged in the hose or by the roar of air escaping the machine after I had pulled the tubing free of the connectors.
I found a hose stand on Amazon that works well for me. The base slips between the mattresses and it hold the hose overhead, much like an IV stand does in a hospital, allowing me to toss and turn with little restriction.
I hope that this sharing experience helps someone out. If you think you may have sleep apnea I cannot stress enough the need to be tested. I didn’t think this applied to me, but during testing they discovered my blood oxygen levels were dropping in the high 80’s, and as I understand it, anything under 95% is considered dangerous. If people tell you that you snore and stop breathing, get thee to a doctor. If you wake up constantly through the night, get thee to a doctor. If when you stop moving you find yourself falling asleep, get thee to a doctor.