7 Great Things That Could Happen Once You Get a CPAP Machine
This revolutionary machine treats the snoring of sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening condition. Here is what CPAP users say about how their lives have changed.
Sleep apnea is more than a snore fest
Sleep apnea is a fairly common disorder—one in five adults in the United States have at least a mild case of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Loud snoring is the common complaint of those who share a bed with an OSA sufferer, but there is more going on inside the body of a person with OSA besides annoying snoring. “Sleep apnea occurs when breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep, and it’s caused by a blockage or collapse of the upper airway,” says Teofilo Lee-Chiong, Jr, MD, a professor at National Jewish Health. “These interruptions, also known as apneas, are caused by the collapse of soft tissue in the airway, which, in turn, keeps oxygen from reaching the lungs. Weak muscles in the airway, a large tongue, and obesity may also cause the airway tissue to collapse and obstruct breathing.”
You may notice that your bed partner snores for a bit, then stops and gasps for air. This cycle isn’t healthy for the person with OSA and certainly doesn’t lend itself to a peaceful night’s sleep for the bed partner—and it’s why a CPAP machine can make such a difference. “If left untreated, OSA can give rise to daytime sleepiness and fatigue, high blood pressure, impaired cognition, and increased risk of car accidents. There are also associations with OSA and heart failure and heart attacks, stroke, cardiac rhythm irregularities, type 2 diabetes, and poor academic performance,” says Dr. Lee-Chiong. Find out if any of these other sleep disorders are robbing you of your z’s.
Sufferers lose more than sleep
The occasional night of fitful sleep will leave the average person feeling groggy and cranky; a person with untreated OSA will feel this way 365 days a year. This wreaks havoc on some major functions in that person’s physical, mental, and behavioral spheres. “During sleep, various hormone systems act to help digest and metabolize nutrients and eliminate various waste products. Too little or too much sleep is associated with increases in obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Even your level of hunger or satiety is related to the hormone balances modulated by appropriate amounts of sleep,” says Marc Leavey, MD, a primary care specialist at Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville, who also blogs about sleep issues at String of Medical Pearls.
“It is said that dreams are the processing of data absorbed during the day, along with the brain’s creativity and learning. New information is processed with enhanced ability to learn with adequate amounts of sleep; schoolchildren who are sleep-deprived have more difficulties learning concepts and retaining facts,” says Dr. Leavey. Daily living becomes a nightmare of waking up feeling exhausted, dozing off during the day, being cranky with coworkers, overeating and over-caffeinating, and slower reflexes when driving. Check out these 9 silent signs of sleep apnea.
Along came the CPAP machine
This revolutionary machine—the initials stand for “continuous positive airway pressure”—has proved to be a lifesaver for those who suffer from sleep apnea. How does it work? “A CPAP machine sends a constant flow of air pressure to your throat to ensure that your airway stays open during sleep, effectively treating the spontaneous pauses in breath associated with sleep apnea,” says Dr. Lee-Chiong. Snoring ceases, the patient can breathe normally throughout the night, and everyone—patient and partner alike—gets a restful night of sleep. It’s become the most commonly used therapy for OSA; now CPAP machines come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit almost every patient.
End of migraines
For several years, Julie Bane of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, struggled with getting a good night’s rest. She often woke with migraines, she snored, and her husband wasn’t getting much sleep, either. She signed up for a sleep study, which can mean spending a night in a lab at a hospital—or, in some cases, at home—while monitors track breathing, waking, and other measures of sleep quality. The tests revealed that Bane had sleep apnea, and her doctor prescribed a CPAP. “It was life-changing,” Bane says. “It wasn’t until I got my CPAP machine that I started getting good sleep. I also stopped waking up with migraines.” Although adjusting to the machine can be a challenge for some patients, that wasn’t the case for Bane. “It’s so calming, and I like the white noise it provides. Sometimes I lay in bed with it on just to relax.” Find out 13 secrets to better sleep doctors want you to know.
Everybody sleeps better
Marc Kruskol of Palmdale, California, suffered for years from sleep apnea. His snoring was so loud that he was even disturbing the sleep of family members in other rooms in the house. After his first sleep study, a surgeon suggested removing Kruskol’s tonsils, adenoids, and parts of his soft palate to alleviate the blockage. That sounded too extreme to Kruskol, but his sleep apnea continued to worsen. “I would wake up at 7 a.m., go back to sleep, wake up again at 8 a.m., back to sleep, and so on. I could do this all day if I could,” says Kruskol. “I went to a movie. I watched the trailers. The next thing I knew, the movie was almost over. I could literally fall asleep anywhere, almost instantly.”
After a second at-home sleep study, Kruskol signed up for a CPAP machine. “It’s life-changing. The first time I went to sleep around 11 p.m., I woke up at 6:30 a.m. wide awake and ready to go! I have never fallen asleep at anyone’s house, a movie theater—heck, I can’t even fall asleep on a plane. I never have to take naps, and I don’t wake the neighbors or anyone who might be near me,” says Kruskol. If you do need to nap, check out these 11 tips for taking an energizing nap.
A healthier pregnancy
“Since starting CPAP in 2017, my energy levels have improved significantly. That’s not to say that they are perfect, but the difference is huge,” says Stacy Erickson Edwards, who created CPAP Babes, a website to encourage and support CPAP users. “I used to spend pretty much every waking moment planning my next nap, whether it be 20 minutes in between work and a babysitting job or 45 minutes in the car while the kids that I nannied for were at soccer practice,” she says.
Erickson also worried about her ability to conceive with her husband—she knew that sleep apnea can hurt fertility for both men and women. Studies in mice have found that men who suffer from OSA have a reduced sperm count; women with OSA experience reproductive issues, too. The study did not take into account any hormones. Edwards experienced other health bonuses by treating her OSA before conceiving: Researchers report that sleep apnea during pregnancy can raise blood pressure and is linked to other complications, like preterm delivery, low birth weight, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes. See how many of these 22 sleep mistakes you’re making.
Jeremy Hay of Petersburg, Indiana, had life-threatening blood pressure at 180/110. Medications weren’t making much of a difference. “I had been spiking for months into stroke territory with symptoms of an ischemic attack—just shy of a stroke,” Hay recalls. “I had slowed thought and speech, memory loss, and reaction time.” Hay had nonobstructive apnea—he would simply stop breathing. “The connection between my brain and the autonomic nervous system had started to decay. My brain was forgetting to tell me to breathe.” His lifesaver came in the form of an auto CPAP: Instead of sending continuous pressure, an auto CPAP varies low- and high-pressure airflow depending on the patient’s need. His blood pressure is now 140/80; still high, but much healthier. Find out the 13 signs your sleep apnea could be killing you.
A lack of high-quality sleep over time throws the hormones that control hunger satiety out of balance and can lead sufferers to overeat, says Dr. Leavey. When Nicholas Treviño of Jasper, Indiana, went to the doctor, he was just hoping to sleep. “After so long of not hitting REM sleep, I would just pass out for a day and still not feel rested.” The CPAP machine gave Treviño the restful sleep he was lacking—plus, it helped him shed more than 100 pounds. “The weight loss came from getting sleep—lowering my stress, and stress eating—and a 24-hour gym pass,” says Treviño.
Reduced risk of vision loss
Diabetic retinopathy is a type of vision loss that strikes people with type 2 diabetes. In a 2017 University of Birmingham study involving 230 patients with type 2 diabetes, researchers discovered that the condition is more common in patients with OSA. (The research was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.) The good news is that patients who used CPAP machine therapy lowered their risk. Find out the 16 things doctors want you to know about snoring.
Improved cardiovascular health
According to a report from Harvard Medical School, up to 83 percent of people with cardiovascular disease and 35 percent of people with high blood pressure also have sleep apnea. Researchers estimate that treating sleep apnea could reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by a factor of five. Unfortunately, some people don’t realize that they have sleep apnea unless a bed partner alerts them to the snoring and pauses in breathing. People with OSA don’t realize they are snoring, or that their breathing stops. The brain wakes them up, they gasp for air, and then they fall back into poor-quality sleep without realizing that anything is amiss. Each time this near-awakening happens, the body releases stress hormones that take a toll on the heart and raise blood pressure. That’s why experts like Dr. Leavey stress that a CPAP machine can literally save your life.
It’s not sweet dreams for everyone
Most CPAP users agree that it takes some time to adjust to the machine. Matt Meyer of Baltimore, Maryland, is still struggling to sleep with his: “Over the past month and a half, I have used the CPAP intermittently, but I haven’t been able to adjust to the experience of sleeping with the mask,” he says. “It still feels unnatural to have a tube protruding from my face, and the noise of the machine and the sensation of having air forced into my nose while I try to sleep creates an unnatural and somewhat oppressive environment for sleeping.” Other users experience minor skin irritations, headaches, and sinus problems.
“People often feel that the discomfort and inconvenience of the device are not worth preventing what they view as a trivial symptom—snoring,” says Dr. Leavey. “The underlying sleep apnea is a potential killer. It does take a degree of discipline and conviction to use an uncomfortable treatment for a disease that does not seem to exist to the patient.” Check out these 10 home remedies for sleep apnea.
- American Heart Association: "Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease, Stroke"
- Teofilo Lee-Chiong, Jr, MD, a professor at National Jewish Health
- Marc Leavey, MD, a primary care specialist at Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville, who also blogs about sleep issues at String of Medical Pearls.
- Stacy Erickson Edwards, who created CPAP Babes
- Breathe: "Sleep disordered breathing in pregnancy"
- Sleep: "Sleep Apnea as a Potential Threat to Reproduction"
- American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine: "Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Retinopathy in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes. A Longitudinal Study"
- Harvard Medical School: "How sleep apnea affects the heart"