Most likely if you’ve heard of CPAP therapy you, a family member or loved one has sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that can be life-threatening. The most common and successful treatment is with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine.
A CPAP machine is medical equipment that keeps the airway free from obstruction and allows you to breathe normally throughout the night. It not only helps prevent snoring, one of the most common side effects of sleep apnea, but also results in numerous health benefits for our endocrine and cardiovascular systems and cognitive health.
CPAP therapy benefits are felt immediately by many, with a better night’s sleep being top of the list, but for others the benefits are felt more gradually. So, how can you tell if it’s working for you?
Before we dive into the many ways CPAP therapy benefits your health and how you determine if the treatment is providing the benefits you seek, we’ll first discuss what sleep apnea is, and how you determine when you should seek an evaluation and diagnosis.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea occurs when the throat muscles relax and soft tissue in the mouth and throat blocks the flow of oxygen.
Some sleep apnea sufferers are often startled awake while gasping for air. Other sleep apnea sufferers experience restricted air flow, but don’t fully awaken and may never remember these pauses in breathing.
These obstructions can happen many times per night and if left untreated, lead to health problems such as heart failure, diabetes, and high blood pressure among others.
How Do I Know If I have Sleep Apnea?
Snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea. Most people consider it an annoyance, but few realize that it can be a sign of this serious health problem.
If you sleep next to a partner they might be the first ones to suggest that you seek treatment for sleep apnea because your snoring or gasps for air will keep them up! Even if your snoring doesn’t bother anyone else, you probably won’t get restful sleep and will feel exhausted or excessively fatigued throughout the day.
Other common side effects of sleep apnea include morning headaches and sore throats, anxiety, depression, dry mouth upon waking and irritability.
If you experience these symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult a sleep specialist. They will evaluate you and determine your level of risk.
If you have a high likelihood of sleep apnea they may give you a in-home test to determine the severity. However, they also may ask you to participate in a sleep study. That’s where you stay overnight. You’ll stay in a room similar to a hotel room with a clean, comfortable bed.
During the sleep study, a board certified technician observes and can determine if you stop breathing during the night, how long the episodes last and how many episodes occur per night.
What is the Most Common Treatment for Sleep Apnea?
If an in-home test confirms sleep apnea or an in-lab study determines you have sleep apnea, the most common and effective treatment is a CPAP machine.
CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. CPAP machines are designed to deliver air pressure to the breathing passage and keep it free from obstruction.
We’ll explore ways to ensure CPAP therapy works for you, and to know what to pay attention to when evaluating your personal experience.
Getting Comfortable with CPAP Therapy
CPAP is very effective for treating sleep apnea. Some find that it takes a little time to adjust to sleeping with a full face mask or nasal pillow but are able to make the adjustment in a reasonable period of time. It is important to note that CPAP, however, is only effective if used during sleep every night consistently.
Since using a CPAP consistently is required to reap the health benefits, respiratory therapists and other trained staff at the Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee work diligently with you to find a comfortable mask that fits right for you.
The staff will perform multiple fittings when necessary to make sure the mask fits correctly and is comfortable. They will thoroughly answer all of your questions about the mask, CPAP machine, maintenance, and use.
There is a wide variety of CPAP options, so don’t give up if the first mask you try doesn’t work for you. You can schedule as many follow up appointments as necessary to make sure that everything fits and is working properly, so you can get a restful night of sleep.
Our remote program, DREAMS, successfully helps our patients adjust to using CPAP in their home. If you’re interested in discovering more about this program, give us a call.
How Will I Know if CPAP Therapy is Working for Me?
One of the best ways to determine if CPAP therapy is working for you is to pay attention to how you feel when you wake up.
Do you feel more refreshed?
Are you able to get up and out of bed easier?
Are you waking up less irritable or without a headache?
Sleep apnea causes restless sleep, and the night-after-night cycle of waking up and falling back to sleep can really take a toll on the body. If your CPAP machine is working properly then you should be getting restful, deep sleep. You’ll wake up feeling less agitated, and more refreshed and alert.
It may take time to get used to sleeping through the night with a CPAP machine. Initially, you may not feel rested in the morning because you’re not yet accustomed to the machine. This is a common experience for some people. Don’t give up. Keep using your CPAP machine until you become comfortable sleeping with it on. If you experience discomfort or unease that persists, schedule a follow up with your respiratory therapist who will help adjust your treatment as needed.
How CPAP Therapy Can Improve Your Health
Feeling well rested might seem like its own reward. However, studies have shown that CPAP therapy has other health benefits too.
Better Focus and Fewer Accidents
First, because you’ll be more well rested, you’ll be less drowsy during the day. This means you’ll have better focus which makes you less likely to get into accidents, especially automotive or industrial accidents.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
Sleep apnea is hard on the heart. The body isn’t able to get enough oxygen, and blood pressure increases to compensate. Over time, higher blood pressure becomes the norm which can make heart attacks and strokes more likely. Research shows that people who use CPAP for more than 4 hours a night are less likely to suffer from cardiac events, and CPAP therapy can help people lower their blood pressure in general.
Improves Blood Sugar Control
Sleep apnea is also a key factor in adult onset diabetes. CPAP therapy has been shown to improve blood sugar control and insulin resistance.
Reduces GERD (Acid Reflux)
People with sleep apnea are also more likely to suffer from gastro-esphogeal reflux disease (GERD). In one study, CPAP therapy improved GERD in 75% of patients and some were even able to discontinue their GERD medications.
Improves Brain Health
Finally, sleep apnea can cause white matter damage, a form of brain damage. CPAP therapy has been shown to help repair the white matter damage and treatment also improved mood, alertness and overall quality of life.
CPAP Therapy Will Help You and Your Partner Sleep Better
While you suffer the major health effects of sleep apnea, your partner is also impacted. Loud snoring can make it difficult for them to sleep, and they may also feel tired and cranky in the mornings as a result.
If your partner no longer complains about your snoring or they compliment you on your silent snoozing, it’s a good sign that the treatment is working.
What Can I Do if I Believe My CPAP isn’t Working Anymore?
If you’ve been treating your sleep apnea for a while, and have started to experience symptoms such as snoring again, an adjustment to the pressure from your machine may be needed. To make any adjustment, you’ll need to reach out to your sleep medicine specialist and request a review of your treatment.
Although most modern CPAP machines have a means to record data about the efficacy or effectiveness of your treatment, it requires professional expertise to ensure proper reading of the machine data and adjustment. While not common, you may need another study to re-examine your sleep.
Impact of Age and Weight on Sleep Apnea
Even when your treatment is initially successful, weight gain and aging can cause your sleep apnea to worsen.
The CPAP machine is configured and based on your initial results, but if your sleep apnea should worsen due to other factors such as weight gain, then it may need to be adjusted. You may need a higher pressure to keep your windpipe open while you sleep. The same is true if you lose a significant amount of weight. You may need to lessen the pressure.
If you notice a change or are concerned contact your sleep specialist or doctor to determine if you need to have the pressure adjusted in your CPAP machine.
Keep Your CPAP Machine Running Smoothly
For your CPAP machine to always work properly, it’s important you keep up with its cleaning and maintenance schedule. If you don’t, it can impact the effectiveness of the machine in treating your illness.
If your symptoms worsen, or you’re concerned your CPAP machine isn’t working as well as it once did, don’t hesitate to contact your prescribing sleep specialist.
Explore our site to learn more about what CPAP therapy is and how CPAP therapy improves health. If you’d like to read more about treatment for sleep apnea to improve brain health, check out our recent article The Surprising Connection Between Snoring, Sleep Apnea, and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee is a fully integrated sleep practice, with over 25 years of experience working exclusively in sleep medicine. We are able to diagnose and treat most patients directly with durable medical equipment, allowing us to provide best in class experience at all touchpoints along the way.
- Masa, Juan et al. (2014) Should use of 4 hours continuous positive airway pressure per night be considered acceptable compliance? European Respiratory Journal 44: 1119-1120: Retrieved on October 30, 2019 from https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/44/5/1119
- Padmidi, Sushmita et. al (2015) Eight Hours of Nightly Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Improves Glucose Metabolism in Patients with Prediabetes. A Randomized Controlled Trial. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Critical Care Medicine (192)1 96-105: Retrieved on October 29, 2019 from https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1164/rccm.201408-1564OC
- Green, Bryan et. al (2003) Marked Improvement in Nocturnal Gastroesophageal Reflux in a Large Cohort of Patients With Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treated With Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. Archives of Internal Medicine 163(1) 41-45: Retrieved on October 29 from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/214918
- Castronova, Vicenza et. al (2014) White Matter Integrity in Obstructive Sleep Apnea before and after Treatment. Sleep 37(9) 1465-1475: Retrieved on October 29, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4153061/