CPAP therapy can be a daunting prospect for many people. Sleep is such a vital part of our day to day life, and the idea of adding something new and different into our routines can be overwhelming. In fact, panic attacks and other forms of generalized anxiety can occur in those starting CPAP therapy. The University of California, Berkeley released a study in 2012 that showed sleep apnea sufferers are already prone to releasing anxiety and panic hormones when they have choking, or apnea, events in their sleep.
Because these hormones are already a common occurrence, having a CPAP mask over your face can throw you into a panic because it feels claustrophobic or even just different than what you’re used to. Many of us do not sleep with anything on our faces at night, so adding a full face mask, or even a nasal pillow, can lead to feelings of suffocation or discomfort. While this may be a scary prospect, the risk you face when sleeping without a CPAP is much, much greater.
Potential Concerns About Your CPAP
There are a number of concerns you may have about wearing your CPAP equipment at night, and, while some may be more about a fear of the unknown, other concerns are valid as it is a big change to your sleep routine. There are a few things that can happen while sleeping with your CPAP.
Irritation on the bridge of your nose
There are a few different types of masks you have available to you for effective CPAP therapy. You’ll likely review these options with your doctor to decide which is right for your sleep apnea. However, the most common is the full-face mask. The mask is designed to ensure a good fit so the pressured air is making into your airway rather than leaking out the mask. Keeping your airways open during sleep will help you feel more rested and prevent long term apnea side effects.
Even if the mask is fitted properly, it is worn for 8+ hours and can lead to some irritation around the sensitive skin around the eyes, nose, and mouth. If this happens to you, be sure to talk to your doctor or sleep apnea provider about how to wear the mask properly to avoid as much irritation as possible.
Irritation of the Eyes From CPAP Leaks
As mentioned above, making sure your CPAP fits properly is vital to receive effective therapy. The fit of the mask ensures minimal air leakage, which can irritate the eyes causing dryness and irritation throughout the day. Ophthalmologists recommend using artificial tears before bedtime to mitigate the potential irritation from mask leaks.
This is an uncommon side effect of CPAP therapy where you actually swallow too much air rather than breathing it in and out. Excessive air swallowing can lead to abdominal discomfort. We swallow air on a daily basis while eating and drinking, much this is mostly too little to cause any serious discomfort. If you believe that you are swallowing air during your CPAP therapy, be sure to check with your apnea equipment provider to make sure your settings are appropriate and that you are using the CPAP as directed.
This is the big one. Many report that they have trouble sleeping once they put on their CPAP for the first time. This is totally understandable! It’s a big change to your routine and may even feel uncomfortable at first. The key is to learn how to use the CPAP in a way that works best for you. There are a few ways to manage a healthy relationship with your CPAP therapy so you can gain all the daily and long-term benefits of treated sleep apnea.
Try It Out Before You Sleep
One of the best and most effective ways to adapt to your CPAP mask is to wear it a few times while you’re awake. When you disrupt your sleep with something new, it’s very frustrating, but acclimating to your CPAP mask without needing to try to fall asleep can be very helpful. We recommend wearing the CPAP for short periods of time while you’re upright--possibly while watching TV or reading a book. This will give you a good sense of how it fits and how it will feel when you need to wear it during sleep.
Once you’ve adapted to it upright, try wearing it for a while laying down. The mask will fit a little differently when you lay down, and you can use this time to ensure the fit is exactly what you need it to be. If you do all these steps while awake, it will give you a greater sense of comfort with the mask. This is also a good time to test drive the mask you and your doctor or equipment provider decided on. Does the full-face mask work for you? Would you feel more comfortable with a nasal pillow? Try it out and make sure you’re getting the best therapy for you.
Find Your Optimal CPAP Settings
Not every sleep apnea sufferer is created equal! Depending on your sleep apnea severity and other contributing factors, your CPAP settings will be different from others. However, there are some simple things everyone can do to ensure they are as comfortable as possible while receiving CPAP therapy.
The first is to engage your CPAP’s “ramp” feature. This is a simple feature that starts out your CPAP therapy at a lower level to help you fall asleep more easily. Then, once you’re asleep, the pressure gently increases to your approved settings and remains there for the duration of the night.
Second, make sure your settings are the same as your sleep doctor’s prescription. Every CPAP user received prescribed settings from their sleep physician. The machine can occasionally show up with your approved settings in place, but that isn’t always the. If you’re receiving too low or too much air pressure, you won’t only feel uncomfortable, but you’ll also not get the benefits of appropriate CPAP therapy.
If you have any questions about your prescribed air pressure settings or need help setting up your CPAP with your individualized pressure settings, contact your apnea equipment provider ASAP.
Millions suffer from sleep apnea nationwide and require CPAP therapy to sleep and live the healthiest lives possible. While the CPAP mask may feel like a daunting hill to overcome, you can absolutely do it. When you’re getting the CPAP therapy you need, you’ll see positive effects like increased energy throughout the day, better moods, higher productivity, and even possible improvements to your blood pressure and other vitals. CPAP therapy is an easy way to start overcoming your sleep apnea issues, so don’t let fear and anxiety stand in the way of living your best life!