My wife and I didn’t know she had sleep apnea…at least not at first. At one point, we were in that 5% of the global population that just doesn’t isn’t aware. She had all the telltale symptoms though: daytime sleepiness, bad memory, acid reflux, occasional?fainting etc. Interestingly enough, we actually came across the matter of non-restorative sleep by listening to a podcast (I forget which) and followed it up by reviewing the information with her doctor! Subsequently, we were referred to a pulmonologist who?conducted a sleep study and diagnosed her with sleep apnea. He also explained at great length the long term?effects on her quality of life if we did not arrest the issue with immediacy. Within two visits, he?wrote her a prescription for a sleep apnea?machine which we filled within a month. Needless to say that was one of the best decisions we ever made. Some of you out there may be asking “So…what is a sleep apnea machine, and will it help me?” If you’re looking for an effective therapy outside of natural treatment, then this post will help you answer those questions.
In my previous post 6 Natural Treatments for Sleep Apnea, I explained the causes and effects of said sleep disorder. You will recall that sleep apnea is marked by a gradual collapse of the soft tissue and muscles at the back of the throat causing breathing difficulty and, consequently, cardiac and respiratory stress. Sleep apnea machines employ a “brute force” approach to relieving the noted blockage by providing?continuous airway pressure (also known as CPAP). This method basically involves accelerating air via a pump and facial mask into the airway to “force” the airway to remain open which then relieves the stress that could potentially otherwise occur during apnea episodes. Naturally, many persons who try this therapy receive better sleep than they’ve had in years, mainly because their bodies now have the chance to truly rest and recuperate in an unhindered way. Some even begin experiencing dreams again, after a long stretch of completely dreamless nights!
Brief Origins of the?Sleep Apnea Machine
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a noted uptick in research surrounding sleep apnea. One of the avid researchers?around this disorder was Colin Sullivan, an Australian respiratory doctor. His primary interest was originally with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and he linked the onset to restricted or completely obstructed breathing during sleep. After studying dogs who experienced similar issues he prototyped the first CPAP machine from a vacuum cleaner apparatus, a modified mask and?associated tubing–an invention that definitely had great success in its first trials. He then moved on to testing on humans, and his first subject was a construction worker who had a severe case of sleep apnea. Said worker experienced the best sleep he ever had in a long time and voila, CPAP became a recognised therapy for treatment shortly thereafter. Over the past three decades, the number of users of this treatment method has grown from barely 100 to over 1 million. In my book, this proves without a doubt the effectiveness of this intervention.
Types of Sleep Apnea
So far, we’ve been using the term ‘sleep apnea’ in a fairly broad way since the undesirable?outcome either which way is sleep deprivation. Since we’re on the topic of treatment however, it is important to understand that there are actually 3 different types of this disorder.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) – This type presents itself with the triggers we have discussed so far–ie. the collapse of soft/fatty tissue into the airway thus obstructing breathing. Teh decrease in oxygen within the bloodstream causes the brain to trigger a wake event thus restoring normal ventilation. Once complete the body returns to a state of sleep and the vicious cycle recurs throughout the night. At times there are other complications to this type, such as enlarged tonsils/adenoids, or even one’s genetic predisposition to a larger tongue, smaller jaw or narrower airway.
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) – While OSA is based on a progressive sagging of the tongue and soft palate into the airway, CSA is actually caused by a disruption?of communication between the brain and the autonomic?nervous system which controls your breathing (and other involuntary bodily functions such as blood pressure maintenance etc). You could almost say that the brain temporarily ‘forgets’ to breathe in this state! Thankfully however this is a much rarer condition than OSA in most sleep apnea sufferers.
- Complex (or Mixed) Sleep Apnea – This one is definitely an oddity as far as sleep disorders go. In some cases, persons with OSA have been known to develop CSA once CPAP therapy enters the picture (or they simply present with both at the time of diagnosis). There’s no known treatment for this type that is completely effective, thus it is up to the physician and patient to strike the necessary balance of therapies that have the greatest effect. While this may take time, patients with mixed sleep apnea should ideally stay the course as it will only be to their benefit.
How do you know which one you’ve got? Upon?administering a sleep study, your physician will be able to differentiate between the types given the?information collected over the course of the session.
Components and Features
A sleep apnea machine has three basic components: a core machine with an internal pump and filter, a mask with associated?tubing and an optional water chamber which serves as a reservoir for?the inbuilt humidifier. The first machines were large, noisy, clunky and very uncomfortable. The aim is to sleep after all so it certainly wouldn’t be nice to have a commotion going on while you’re trying to get some shut-eye. Luckily, over time, manufacturers optimised the design and were able to significantly decrease noise levels and improve comfort and efficiency of the breathing apparatus. But that’s not all they did! The modern sleep apnea machine is packed with neat features and accessories, some of which?I’ve included below:
- Different mask styles – Depending on the therapy prescribed and the severity of the condition, your doctor may prescribe anything from a full face mask to low-profile nasal pillows. The former tends to be used for persons who may also breathe through their mouths during sleep, and thus reduces the chance of pressurized air escaping during therapy. Best of all, masks are interchangeable so you can have several of them for use with a single machine. Most machines actually have preset profiles that automatically adjust pressure output to accomodate mask type/style.
- Humidifier settings – Persons who use CPAP machines for the first time sometimes experience dry mouth or a sore throat. This is due to the fact that the air being provided may be dry which can cause much upper respiratory discomfort. Not a good feeling! Enter the humidifier which can help provide moisture to the air in order to relieve this issue. One has to be careful with this as too much humidity can also cause a runny nose.
- Automatic pressure adjustment – Some machines are programmed with a specific pressure range that can be automatically cycled through based on changes to the patient’s breathing. This is one of the coolest things in my mind since the device can detect when you fall asleep and increase the pressure gradually to maintain the integrity of your airway!
- Portability and Electrical adaptability – I must admit, one of my initial concerns regarding the purchase of a sleep apnea machine was around portability. Lo and behold however my wife actually received a travel bag with her order which made for easy transportation. Additionally one can also purchase an external battery if required for those long trips that require a snooze (or 2!) to get through. Last but not least, the actual CPAP machine is a fairly small device (fits pretty easily on a side table or nightstand) which makes it easy to move about with.
Types of Sleep machines
There are 3 major types of sleep machines all of which are based on the type of therapy required for resolution of sleep apnea. These are listed below:
- CPAP – These are standard continuous airway pressure machines which deliver a consistent airstream regardless of whether or not you may be inhaling or exhaling.
- Bi-level PAP (BiPAP) – Basically a CPAP machine but with intelligence embedded which enables the device to detect inhalation or exhalation and adjust air pressure to 1 of 2 levels accordingly. Pressure is decreased for exhalation, which?is useful for persons who may not be able to tolerate the constant air pressure from a standard CPAP machine.
- Auto PAP – They keep making these things better don’t they? Not only does an auto PAP machine detect inhalation and exhalation, but it can deliver pressure levels with more variability and precision than either CPAP or BiPAP. This allows better tailoring to a user’s actual breathing patterns.
Benefits of Sleep Apnea Machines
If used properly, sleep apnea machines can stop or even reverse the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation. In some cases, persons have been given a new lease on life! Here are the top 5 benefits associated with the use of a sleep apnea machine:
- Reduced daytime sleepiness – People suffering from sleep apnea oftentimes feel much more alert a few days into therapy. More daytime alertness means that you will be able to be more productive!
- Improved concentration – Memory?is one of the first things to get impacted once you are sleep deprived. This is due to the fact that untreated sleep apnea has the potential to?damage your brain! Regaining restorative sleep has the effect of boosting memory and concentration, which reduces likelihood of error, especially for advanced tasks.
- Mood stabilisation – Sleep deprivation is oftentimes a major contributor to depression. Getting proper sleep helps to stabilise and improve mood which can lead to a more positive outlook on life, thus reducing the risk of depression.
- No snoring! – Unless you are a regular mouth-breather, say goodbye to snoring! ?This means the quality of your sleep will be improved and your spouse will (most likely) be happier to sleep in a quieter environment. For those who still have issues with air intake through the mouth, a chin strap is a suggested accessory.
- Cost savings – With better quality sleep comes a natural reduction in illness. Since your body is now achieving truly?restorative sleep, your immune system will be performing optimally and your overall well-being will improve. This is a great way to save on medical expenses!
Drawbacks of Sleep Apnea Machines
Unfortunately, there are a few caveats to the use of CPAP on a regular basis. Note that many of these are temporary or transient and can be fixed. Here are the top 5 issues some users encounter with CPAP therapy:
- Embarrassment – Admit it, anyone would feel a?bit weird wearing a mask at night, especially with your spouse or other family members around. Never mind if anyone calls you Darth Vader–it’s your health and your responsibility!
- Runny nose – This can happen in very humid settings (inclusive of those artificially?induced through use of the device’s own humidifier). In those cases it is best to adjust humidity downwards or to turn off the humidifier completely. Congestion can however occur via other means as well such as due to the flu or a sinus infection. In those cases, it is best to discontinue use of the machine for a period until you are better.
- Sore throat – Conversely if the air is very cold and/or dry, you may
experience discomfort in the upper respiratory tract in the form of a dry or sore feeling. In this case, use of the humidifier may improve comfort. Heated tubing might also be an advisable addition to your accessories. If dry nose occurs as well, a mild moisturiser can be applied around the nostrils and above the lip before use to prevent any issues.
- Skin?irritation – The straps that used to hold the mask in place on the face may irritate the skin in some individuals. In many cases this is due to the straps being too tight, but can also be caused by an allergic reaction to the material used for the straps. Hypoallergenic solutions may be available so it’s a good idea to keep this in mind before purchase.
- Stomach pain – At times air may end up in the stomach which can cause gas pain. Use of a pillow (or pillows) to provide proper alignment of your head with your body can usually relieve this issue.
Getting a Sleep Machine
Sleep apnea machines require a prescription from your doctor prior to purchase. Once you have been given the prescription, provide a copy of same to the manufacturer and be sure to also include any accessories you may need. Once it arrives, see your doctor regarding set up of the device and the care requirements (you could also do it yourself, but be sure to let your doctor know).
Have you purchased a sleep apnea machine recently? Or maybe just thinking about it? Share your experiences or questions in the comments area below and I will be happy to engage with you! Hope you found this to be useful.