Looks Like Hannibal Lecter, Sounds Like Darth Vader
About a month and a half ago, I was getting ready to go to sleep in a strange place with a bunch of strangers watching me. One of them had me try on this funny mask that pumps air into my nose. It was a sleep study, and the mask was connected to a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. It had a piece over my face that I breathed through, and strapped around the back of my head so I could ensure it stayed on during my sleep. I asked if I looked like Hannibal Lecter; the technician said most people sound like Darth Vader with the CPAP machine on.
After the sleep study, I waited a few weeks before getting the results, and found out what I (and my doctors) suspected all along: I have obstructive sleep apnea. I stopped breathing while I was asleep. It explained a lot: my lack of energy, my cravings for calorie-rich foods, and my anxiety peaking after nights of poor sleep.
Fast forward to this past weekend, and now I have my very own CPAP machine to help keep me able to breathe while I'm asleep. Unlike chilling in a strange hospital bed 'practicing' with the CPAp machine there, using it while sleeping at home had a new set of challenges: claustrophobia while wearing the mask, the new ambient noise keeping me awake, and simply not thinking about the darn thing strapped to my face. The claustrophobia is a big one, especially if you use a full face mask instead of just a nose mask.
It's still a challenge, but when I'm able to stay asleep with it on, my days really are better. I wake up feeling more refreshed, less panicked and tired. Getting to a point where I'm used to wearing the CPAP mask while sleeping took some practice and work. With a collection of tips and tricks from my doctor's office, my medical supplier, a friend in the same condition, and the magic and wonder of the Internet, this is what I've foun d works best for me:
- Hydrate well. Even with a humidifier attachment, the false sensation of suffocating gets worse when your mouth is all dry. Drinking some water prior to going to sleep is a good idea.
- Use other noises to cover the CPAP machine sound. I listen to talk radio while getting to sleep, and have my iPad on a timer to turn down and eventually turn off the audio over the course of a half hour or so. Being able to tune into that instead of the wooshing air sound makes a big difference.
- Relax before bed. Between a nice cup of chamomile tea and a bit of quiet work on a sudoku puzzle, it's easier to get myself into rest mode. Rest mode is key for me to de-stress and settle myself with the mask on rather than panicking.
- Take a break. If you wake up with the mask on and freak out a bit, it's OK to take off the mask briefly and breathe without it. Taking a minute or two to catch your breath, regroup, and start again can make all the difference between having a good rest of the night and struggling beneath the mask trying to fall asleep in vain.
Hopefully these tips will help you if you're using a CPAP machine for the first time. Having a good, healthy night of sleep is way worth the effort of using the machine. More good (and weird?) dreams, better mood the following day, and lots more energy.