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CPAP Usage

Millions of Americans with sleep apnea have pauses in their breathing or fall into shallow breathing while they sleep. The poor air flow disrupts their sleep and can leave them feeling tired.

CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. A CPAP machine can help by delivering continuous air flow through the mouth and nose. Many people who think they'll never be able to sleep with a CPAP machine learn to do so and reap the benefits of a good night's rest.

Who Needs a CPAP Machine?

There are many different kinds of sleep disorders. If you experience chronic snoring, often feel sleepy during the day despite spending enough time in bed, or don't wake up feeling refreshed and alert, share that information with your doctor to see if you qualify for a sleep study.

During a sleep study, health care professionals observe sleep patterns and diagnose sleep disorders. If a sleep study reveals sleep apnea, the best treatment is often a CPAP machine.

What Is a CPAP Machine?

CPAP machines supply constant and steady air pressure to the patient. Machines have three main parts:

  1. A nasal mask that fits over the nose or a full face mask that fits over the nose and mouth
  2. A tube that connects the mask to the machine's motor
  3. A motor that blows air into the tube

How Do I Use a CPAP Machine?

CPAP machines can be difficult to get used to, but it is possible to become comfortable with the process. Common problems with CPAP include a leaky mask, trouble falling asleep, and a dry mouth or nose. Fortunately, there are alternatives available to help resolve these complications.

Solutions to some common CPAP problems include:

  • Masks come in a variety of styles and sizes. There are full-face masks that cover your mouth and nose, and there are masks that cover only your nose. While the nose-only masks may feel less cumbersome, they may not provide a stable enough fit if you move around a lot in your sleep. Along with style, getting the right size is also important because it makes sure the air is going in your airway and not irritating your skin. CPAP masks are usually adjustable. Watch our CPAP tutorial video (below) for advice on getting the best fit.
  • Practice wearing the mask while awake. To get used to the mask, first wear just the mask for short periods during the day and then advance to wearing the mask while the air is flowing.
  • Wear the CPAP device every time you sleep. Once you become accustomed to wearing your CPAP device, wear it consistently both at night and during naps. Putting off wearing your device can delay getting used to it. Consistency is the key to adjustment.
  • Adjust air flow. Some people have difficulty tolerating forced air. Most CPAP machines come with a "ramp" feature that allows you to start with low air pressure, followed by an automatic, gradual increase to the prescribed pressure settings as you fall asleep. You have the option to set ramping times yourself or ask your doctor about a device that will automatically adjust the pressure while you are sleeping. Also, practice good sleep habits by exercising regularly and avoiding caffeine and alcohol at bedtime. Learn relaxation exercises, like progressive muscle relaxation to help control anxiety.
  • Ask about adding a heated humidifier. You may find the CPAP leaves you with a dry, stuffy nose. Some CPAP devices have attachable, heated humidifiers to provide relief. You also may use a saline nasal spray before bed. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe a steroid nasal spray.
  • Don't give up. If at first the mask keeps you from falling asleep, correct any problems you can, and then commit to an adjustment period. Difficulty falling asleep with CPAP is a common issue that gets better.