Adapting to a CPAP Machine

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Insurance companies tend to approve fairly high end CPAP and BIPAP machines, because they know patients will be more likely to use them.  New machines are very nearly silent and there are a range of mask configurations to choose from e.g., nose-only, and partial or full-face masks.  You can try out different masks, of course.  For example, the nose mask works well if you know you are strictly a nose-breather.   The masks have soft, silicone material that conforms comfortably to nearly any face or nose structure. 

For patients who are claustrophobic about wearing a CPAP mask, I work with them in using a behavioral “shaping” procedure.  With this approach, you acclimate to wearing the mask just  a little at a time.  The procedure would proceed like this:   Wear the mask only, (no tubes or tube-connectors) for short periods of time while you are watching a video, doing the dishes, etc.  If you have a pronounced anxiety reaction, just start with a few seconds for your first wearing trial.  Next trial, keep the mask on for another 15-30 seconds while doing a rewarding, valued activity.   Add to the duration a bit, day after day.  You will want to take the next step at some point; which involves lying down on a couch or bed for a few minutes with just the mask, while listening to music or reading.   If you have especially high mask-wearing anxiety but the day comes when you want to give it a try at night It may help you to use a bit of saline nose spray to fully clear your nasal passages before bedtime.  This may help you reassure yourself that your breathing is 100% clear and you won’t “suffocate” during the night wearing the mask.

Usually, it takes people a few nights to learn to tolerate their CPAP mask. Because the treatment helps curtail snoring so well, decreases intermittent wakening and promotes quality sleep, the pay-off for using it is powerful and quite immediate.  Incidentally, your machine will probably humidify the air, which may be helpful to some patients living in a very dry climate.  The machines will also heat the air to a comfortable temperature and also filter the air (which is helpful for pollen/dust allergy sufferers).   If you are fearful that the air pressure from the machine will make it hard for you to breathe, rest assured; the machines are designed to not create the sensation of having to exhale against pressured air.   Also, many machines will ramp up the air pressure and adjust it during the night, depending on how well you are breathing.  They are fairly “smart” machines.  They typically have a built-in modem and can transmit all of the sleep and machine-use date to your doctor automatically, for his or her review.  Accessories for running the machines off 12 Volt batteries at night (for camping, RV travel) are also available.  

As for the problem with feeling self-conscious about wearing a C\PAP in bed with a sleep partner—I’m not sure what to suggest.  It is quite doubtful someone you love will suddenly find you personally unattractive, or terminate your relationship because you need treatment for sleep apnea.   If they complain or leave you, perhaps “good riddance”; you probably don’t have a very mature partner in the first place.  Please note that I am not a sponsor nor an advocate of any particular brand of CPAP machine; there are many excellent machines on the market these days.

Copyright 2019  David M. Stein, Ph.D.  Readers are welcome to link to this article.   Copying this article without the written permission of the author is not permitted.  Copying the article and presenting it on another website without appropriately crediting the present author is considered plagiarism.  This action will be reported to state or provincial licensing boards as an ethical violation.