10 Tips on How to Get CPAP to Work Better For You

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can deeply affect the quality of your life.  Waking from a full night’s sleep feeling fatigued is just one of the symptoms of suffering from OSA. CPAP therapy has proven to be a very effective treatment of Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  Once you’ve been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and prescribed CPAP therapy, you must wear your CPAP every night to ensure a proper night’s rest.

But knowing this and actually doing it can be difficult for some. One of the top reasons of the failure of CPAP therapy is non-compliance to therapy.  Many people fail to comply with their therapy because of difficulties or discomforts from the therapy. Here are 10 tips on how you can get your CPAP to work better for you.

  1. Find a CPAP mask that works for you.

One size does not fit all – and this is especially true for your CPAP mask.  Everyone has different and unique facial features as well as individual comfort needs.  That is why there are so many different kinds of masks on the market. 

Because you have to wear a mask all night long to ensure proper airflow into your lungs, you must make sure the fit of your mask is comfortable. If the mask you bring home doesn’t feel right and makes it hard to sleep, it won’t be effective in the slightest.

Some masks fit over the entirety of your face, stretching across your forehead and cheeks, which can be effective for those restless sleepers who are prone to tossing and turning.

Other masks feature small nasal pillows and cover much less of your face, but may off if you sleep on your side or move around a lot at night. Also, pay attention to size – just like clothing, sizes can vary from different manufacturers, so you might not be the same size over different brands.

  1. Make your mask fit like a pillow

When a mask doesn’t fit properly, other problems can arise – it can start irritating your skin, cause dry, teary eyes or even leave you with pressure sores. First try adjusting pads and/or straps to get the best fit possible. Make sure the mask doesn’t fit too highly on the bridge of your nose – effectively blasting air into your eyes all night. 

Again, talk to your doctor and play with the size/style of your CPAP mask. There are lots of options and you might have to try out a few before finding the one that’s right for you. It shouldn’t hurt, so if you’re experiencing pain after a night wearing your CPAP, something is wrong. Talk to your doctor.

  1. Get used to wearing your CPAP

It’s a good idea to practice wearing your CPAP before using it all night long. Set it up during TV time to get used to the fit, feel and forced air that you’ll be experiencing during a typical night of sleep. Try wearing it for short periods of time while you’re awake so you can get used to it. It’s important to remember that wearing your CPAP takes some getting used to.

  1. Practice makes perfect

For most, you’ll have to get used to tolerating forced air, this tends to be the biggest hurdle to overcome. Your doctor might suggest utilizing the "ramp" feature on the CPAP machine, which lets you start with low pressure and then gradually increases to doctor’s specifications, allowing you to fall asleep easier.

If this doesn’t work – talk to your doctor. Only an open dialogue can help you overcome any issues you might encounter when beginning CPAP therapy. There are other options, such as units that supply bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) or devices that have variable pressure. The latter provide more pressure when you inhale and less when you exhale.

  1. Try a heated humidifier with your CPAP machine

Often times, CPAP users complain about a dry, stuffy nose after a night using the machine. This can be remedied with a CPAP device that features a heated, adjustable humidifier, which attaches to the air pressure machine. Another option is using a nasal saline spray before going to sleep. Your doctor may even prescribe a nasal steroid spray if your dryness doesn't respond to the humidifier. Also important to note, if your mask doesn’t fit well, that can be a contributing factor to making you feel dry.

  1. Overcoming mask claustrophobia

A common complaint with the CPAP is a feeling of claustrophobia, but that can be corrected with practice (see suggestions 2 & 3). Wear your CPAP during TV time, let your body and lungs adjust to the new sensation of forced air. Though foreign at first, the end goal of allowing you a peaceful night’s rest is priceless.

Don’t underestimate the value of relaxation exercises. Once you’ve gradually become accustomed to wearing the CPAP, if you still feel claustrophobic, try breathing exercises at bedtime, listening to relaxing music or progressive muscle relaxation when you lay down. If you feel like you’ve tried everything and still feel the walls closing in on you – talk to your doctor. It might be time to try a different size/style of mask.

  1. Sleep like a baby

When you begin using your CPAP, difficulty falling asleep is a common problem – but temporary. Using the suggestions on this list should help, by gradually letting your body get accustomed to the CPAP during waking hours, it won’t be so hard on you during sleep.

Try everything and don’t give up or wear your CPAP on and off. Use the ramp feature, wear it during the day, and make sure your mask is the right one for you. As with anything, make sure you’re getting enough healthy exercise and that your body is ready for rest. If that still doesn’t help, talk to your doctor.

  1. No more dry mouth

Another common complaint is dry mouth, if you breathe through your mouth at night or sleep with your mouth open, some CPAP devices may lead to dry mouth. Play with your style of mask – try a chin strap to keep your mouth closed. A full-face-mask covers your mouth and nose, so that may also be an option for you. Using a heated humidifier may also help as well.

  1. Reduce the noise
    Most models of CPAP devices hitting the market today are almost silent, but if you find a device’s noise is keeping you up, first check to make sure the device air filter is clean and unblocked (that might be creating noise). If this still doesn’t help, ask your CPAP supplier to check the device to make sure it’s working correctly. If it checks out and you still can’t sleep, try earplugs, a white-noise machine or your favorite music at night.
  1. Sleep soundly

If you toss and turn all night, that can make wearing your CPAP more difficult. If you wake up and find your mask off, you’ll know it’s time to try a different size/style. A full face mask will stay on your face better. If you wake up congested, you may be pulling your mask off unintentionally, try adding a CPAP-heated humidifier. A chin strap could be the answer to keeping the mask on your face, as well.

Try everything on this list, and if you still wake up with the mask off, talk to your doctor. Remember he/she prescribed a CPAP machine for a reason. Be diligent and wear it every night to avoid potential problems down the line.

Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can have far-reaching ramifications for your health and well-being, so don’t take wearing your CPAP lightly. Keep trying until it works for you, making small tweaks and talking to your doctor until you get the full night’s rest that is so crucial. Remember, most people who wear a CPAP nightly sleep soundly and barely notice it once they get used to it. Don’t give up and you will finally get good rest again.

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