Don’t Worry, Be Happy with Using Your CPAP Machine
It’s a running joke with my patients that anyone that is referred for a sleep study will automatically leave the appointment with a CPAP machine. Honestly, I get what they are saying because this is frequently the case. Sleep disorders often go hand in hand with lung disease. That’s not to say that you are destined to have a sleep disorder because you have a chronic lung condition, but there is a definite correlation. For anyone with a sleep disorder who is prescribed a CPAP, it is an adjustment to get used to the “new normal”. For some it is easier than others and I feel for those who are having a difficult time with it. However, there are so many benefits to using your CPAP machine like feeling more energized, protecting your heart from damage associated with sleep disorders, and assistance with weight loss. For these reasons alone, you should commit yourself to using your CPAP at night. The following are my “tricks of the trade” to make wearing a CPAP mask/pillows a little easier and hopefully more comfortable.
1. It should “fit like a glove” - People come in all shapes and sizes so it’s a good thing that so do CPAP masks/pillows. Whether you are using nasal pillows or a full-face mask there are so many brands and models to choose from. Make sure when you are getting fitted for your mask that it feels comfortable. If there are issues, let your CPAP specialist or respiratory therapist know what problems you are encountering. Their job is to find the best mask/pillow that will work for you. Don’t leave the office if you notice that something is not right with your mask. Be sure to have the technician show you how to adjust the mask so it fits properly. There is a multitude of brands and sizes out there to fit every face. Finding the right fit is possible, but it can take time.
2. Practice makes perfect – You get the “magical” CPAP mask and night one, you get a full uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep with the best dreams and zero issues throughout the night…. WRONG! If this describes your experience, you are in the vast minority of folks using a CPAP mask/pillows and you should consider yourself lucky. Most people need a little time to get used to a CPAP, so I recommend you start out by using your mask/pillows for short periods of time while awake. Try wearing your mask/pillows while watching a few TV shows or reading so you can get comfortable with it. Subsequently, try wearing the mask/pillows every time you take a nap or go to sleep at night. You want to trick your brain in to thinking that it is second nature and the best way to do that is to practice.
3. How to avoid your mouth feeling like the Sahara. – One of the biggest complaints that I hear about wearing a CPAP mask/pillows is that the machine has a tendency to dry you out. Whether it be your nasal passageways, or you mouth, this can be uncomfortable. If dryness is occurring in your nasal passages, try misting your nose with a saline spray before use. Many CPAP machines come with a humidifier and this should be adjusted (if possible) to provide an adequate amount of humidity to the mouth and nose. Make sure you fill up the “well” every night before bed with distilled water. Distilled water lacks minerals that can build up and lessen the life of your machine. If you are sleeping with your mouth open, the CPAP machine may cause your dry mouth to worsen. Chin straps help you to keep your mouth closed when using a nasal mask. Adequate moisture is a key to success with these machines so make sure your humidifier and heated tubing is meeting your needs.
4. Claustrophobia, a real fear… - One of the things that I can totally relate to when it comes to using a CPAP machine is claustrophobia. Here we are as medical personnel advising someone who is already short of breath to put on a mask and then to, “relax and go to sleep.” Nasal masks/pillows are typically the first choice of treatment for those who have claustrophobia. Having the mask cover just your nose, can help you get used to the machine faster. However, due to some people’s severity of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) nasal masks/pillows may not be an option. Regardless of the type of mask, you will (again) need to practice with your machine while you are awake. Start out by holding just the mask up to you face without the machine on to get used to it being there. Then try turning the machine on and hold it up to your face. Once you are used to holding it to your face, then you can try slipping the straps over your head. Don’t wait until bedtime of the day you receive the CPAP machine to practice. If you are overtired, the frustration and fear of claustrophobia will add additional stress and anxiety to using this machine.
5. “Ramp” it up – The best improvement in technology (in my opinion) to the CPAP machine was the addition of the “ramp” feature. Most new CPAP machines have this feature which starts the pressure output from the machine at a low level and gradually increases the pressure over time to that which is prescribed by your physician. This allows you to get use to the air pressure instead of being “blown away” the minute you turn on the machine. If your CPAP machine is older, then see if you qualify for a new improved model that provides this feature, therefore making the experience easier to tolerate.
6. Work on your overall sleep hygiene – Having good sleep habits plays a significant role in in your sleep quality regardless of whether you use a CPAP machine. So, before you hit the sack and put on your CPAP mask make sure you are following these tips. Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bed. Turn off your screens at least 30 minutes prior to going to bed and avoid blue light which has been shown to keep the brain from resting. Go to bed when your body signals that it is tired and try to keep (on average) the same sleep-wake cycle each day. Avoid super long naps, yet a 30-45 minute power nap each day is perfectly acceptable. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. You can read more tips on how to get a better night's sleep by reading my blog Tips to Help You Sleep Better When You Have a Lung Condition. Blogger’s Tip: I LOVE my sound machine! I have used it ever since my kiddos were babies and I could hear the noise of their sound machines through the baby monitor. I happened to miss it when they didn’t need baby monitors and so I jumped on Amazon and purchased myself one. (Linked in the picture below) I turn that bad boy on every night and the noise covers up random bumps and creeks in the middle of the night that can keep this “scaredy cat” awake. :)
7. Leaks, sores, skin irritation, oh my! – There are so many reasons that leaks occur in the mask, but one thing is for sure, if the mask is leaking then you aren’t getting the air pressure you need to breathe properly in your sleep. If a leak is occurring, you can try first to tighten the straps a bit. However, the mask should not be so tight as to cause pressure sores on your skin. If you have facial hair, this can cause air leaks. Consider keeping the facial hair to a minimum to properly seal you mask. Also, if you moisturize your face in the evening this can cause your mask to slide around. Make sure moisturizers are put on early enough so that they have time to soak into the skin. If skin irritation is occurring, they make mask liners to help with that. Also, make sure you clean your mask daily to remove any make-up or oils from your mask that tend to cause break outs and irritation. You can use unscented sensitive skin baby wipes to gently cleanse your mask or there are some manufacturers that make CPAP wipes. Don’t be surprised if you have to adjust your mask nightly to insure a proper fit.
8. What’s that noise? – Many of the newer CPAP machines are virtually silent. However, CPAP machines require some maintenance to keep them running smoothly. Make sure you are keeping the air filter clean and unblocked. If you notice you machine making an unusual sound, this is the first place you should check. If unusual noises persist, contact your CPAP supplier for maintenance. If the general noise of the CPAP machine bothers you, you can try ear plugs or a sound machine to block out the noise.
9. Keeping it on – Keeping the CPAP mask on can be a real struggle. Some people don’t realize that they are taking it off in the middle of the night and others find that through movement in the night that the mask is coming off. If either of these applies to you, you can try a couple of things. Sometimes using a chin strap will help you to avoid pulling the CPAP mask off of your face. You can try contacting your CPAP supplier to see if another type of mask could be an option for you. I had a tip once from a patient who wore mittens at night which helped prevent her from taking off her mask. You can also try setting an alarm to wake you up for a “mask check” or having a loved one check on you if they wake up at night to ensure that the mask is still on your face.
10. Don’t give up! - Your health is important. If you have tried all of these tips and nothing seems to be working, it’s time to go back to your doctor for more suggestions and/or help in making this work. You can do this. I promise the benefit to your health will be remarkable.
Remember: We are in this TOGETHER!
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