It is no secret that a good night’s sleep is essential for good physical and mental health. Consistently missing out on sleep not only reduces your energy during the day, but sleepless nights predispose you to a range of illnesses. Millions of Americans are suffering from chronic sleep problems. For some, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – or sleeping with a hose strapped to their head – is the answer.
The Sleeplessness Epidemic
Medical professionals recommend that adults sleep for seven to nine hours each night. Anything less than seven hours is considered detrimental in the long term. However, only one in four American adults regularly get eight hours of sleep. Only 38% feel they wake up rested.
Compare that to 44% of adults stating they feel sleepy for two to four days of the week. Apart from feeling sleepy and lacking energy, the consequences of not getting enough rest include irritability, headaches, and a feeling of being unwell.
The problem is not limited to the United States. Worldwide, more than half of all adults stated that stress or worry affected their sleep. Nearly 30% suffer from insomnia.
The Causes For Sleeplessness
Whilst increased stress and worry may lead to sleeplessness, your inability to get quality sleep may be caused by medical conditions. Experts estimate that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80% being unaware.
Sleep apnea causes temporary stoppages to your breathing during the night. The stoppages can be due to a blocked airway in the case of obstructive sleep apnea. This sleep disorder may also be caused by your brain not signaling your lungs to breathe.
Contrary to snoring, sleep apnea completely stops the supply of oxygen to the brain and the lungs. If there are enough incidents throughout the night, your blood oxygen levels can drop dangerously low.
Whether or not someone develops sleep apnea during their lifetime depends on several factors. Genetics has a big part to play, as does age. Obesity, smoking, and alcohol use may also contribute to sleep apnea. For women, approaching the end of menopause can also bring on sleep apnea.
Is CPAP Therapy The Answer?
Whilst lifestyle changes may be sufficient to address very mild sleep apnea, CPAP therapy is becoming more common. Doctors recommend CPAP machines for those suffering from mild, moderate, and serious sleep apnea.
Continuous positive airway pressure machines keep the patient’s throat open throughout the night. The machine forces a constant level of air pressure into the user’s upper airway. The air pressure is greater than atmospheric pressure which facilitates continued breathing and better sleep.
CPAP machines consist of two parts: a mask that is strapped to the person’s head while they sleep and a small device that contains a water chamber to avoid feelings of dryness. Both are connected by a hose. CPAP masks cover your nose, mouth, or both. Medical professionals recommend patients choose the mask they find most comfortable.
Getting Used To The Device
CPAP machines are rarely loved at first sight. Many patients find the masks uncomfortable, at least initially. Others report a feeling of being suffocated by the very device intended to help them breathe.
Doctors admit that there are drawbacks to CPAP machines, but they also believe the benefits outweigh the inconveniences. Sleep apnea sufferers are at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and several mental illnesses.
The advice is for patients to persist with the CPAP mask and try and become desensitized to it. One way of achieving this is to wear it throughout the day to get used to the straps. Meditation and relaxation before going to sleep also help alleviate the feeling of discomfort. Don’t hesitate to change masks or try different models until you find the most comfortable one.
If you tried a CPAP machine in the past and felt like you were being suffocated, the machine may not have been adjusted correctly. If the device cannot increase air pressure quickly enough to meet demand, a feeling of suffocation can be the result.
Previously, CPAP machines were calibrated based on the results of sleep apnea studies. More recent devices called auto-CPAPs are self-regulating throughout the night and can be adjusted by the user.
In many cases, it is simply down to getting used to the device and not giving up too quickly. Waking up headache-free and without the need to nap throughout the day equates to getting your life back.
Positives Over Negatives
Not every CPAP user has to go through an adjustment period. Some notice the benefits immediately. Severe sleep apnea may cause dozens of so-called events every night when lungs and brain are deprived of oxygen. Even though it may take a few weeks to sleep through the night with the CPAP mask, the benefits of improved sleep are instant.
Waking up with energy not only increases your productivity but also makes a difference to your mental health and general outlook on life. It can be the difference between struggling to get through a day and enjoying tackling new challenges.
Many users refer to the process as their CPAP journey. They go through a phase of finding the best mask and changing their sleeping pattern as tossing and turning can dislodge the straps keeping the mask on your face. Users also find they get to know over time which airflow settings work best for them.
Considering the daytime benefits, most users are happy to adapt to the mask and the sound of the machine.
What About The Dropouts?
CPAP therapy has become the gold standard for the treatment of sleep apnea. Despite the success and benefits of the machines, scientists admit that CPAP therapy has its drawbacks. Non-adherence to the therapy is a problem.
Adherence tends to range from 30 to 60% of those who have been prescribed CPAP therapy. Despite more portable machines, reduced noise, and more comfortable masks, patients continue to miss nights. Those who begin their treatment with irregular use patterns are more likely to abandon the machine completely in the long run. Consequently, their symptoms return.
Studies have concluded that behavioral intervention or other measures of motivation including coaching have not been as successful as doctors hoped. Between 30 and 40% of patients continue to wear their masks only for a few hours each night.
Alternatives For Mild Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can present in mild, moderate, or severe forms. If you have more than 30 apnea events per night, doctors would classify your condition as severe, and CPAP therapy remains the recommended course of action.
However, if your sleep problems are diagnosed early, and fall within the mild spectrum of the condition, oral appliances can help. Oral appliances to treat sleep apnea are custom-fit dental devices that you wear overnight.
Dentists use oral appliance therapy to treat mild and moderate sleep apnea. Like CPAP masks, dental devices come in different shapes and sizes, and you may want to try different options to find the one that works best.
Some appliances slide your lower jaw forward slightly and create space at the back of your throat. Even if the muscles in your mouth and throat relax and loosen while you sleep, they are unable to obstruct the airway entirely.
Once you have found a suitable device, it is important to have regular follow-ups with your dentist throughout the first year. Your dentist needs to ensure that the device fits securely whilst you are adjusting to its use.
For some patients, changing their sleeping position from their back to their side also improves their sleep quality. Lifestyle changes including weight loss and minimizing alcohol consumption can help as well as stopping smoking.
Losing sleep night after night is hugely detrimental to anyone’s physical and mental health. Whilst most of us can cope with losing sleep once in a while, sleep apnea is a serious condition.
A completely obstructed airway means your brain and lungs are starved of oxygen. If that happens repeatedly every night, you are at risk for heart disease, treatment-resistant high blood pressure, stroke, and a range of mental health conditions.
If your sleep apnea is severe, CPAP therapy remains the best course of action, although doctors understand that most patients need significant time to adjust to the machine. In mild or moderate cases, less invasive therapies may be an alternative. These options include lifestyle changes or oral appliance therapy.
No matter what treatment your doctor recommends, getting sufficient, good-quality sleep needs to be a priority for everyone. If you are losing sleep consistently, sleep apnea may be the cause. Talk to your doctor today to find out what your best options are for a good night’s sleep.