If you’ve been prescribed CPAP therapy as a treatment for your obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you might wonder before you start therapy, how you’re going to get used to it. Getting used to CPAP, in the beginning, might take some effort and you’ll have to adapt to your new CPAP machine.
The good news is there are ways that can help you get there quicker. One particular way is CPAP desensitization. But first, let’s talk about the importance of staying compliant with your CPAP therapy.
Importance of CPAP Compliance
The more you understand about your therapy and the underlying consequences of untreated OSA, the more likely you’ll comply. OSA is a lifelong, chronic condition so you’ll need to set some expectations accordingly. For example, some individuals will begin feeling a difference the next day after starting therapy, whereas most patients take time. They’ve probably had this condition for many years and it can take some time making up for sleep debt (lost sleep).
Sometimes, individuals can’t stay compliant because there are actual problems with their CPAP therapy such as:
- They’re having a hard time getting used to CPAP
- They have anxiety issues or claustrophobia
- They can’t get used to the sensation of air pressure
CPAP desensitization involves:
- CPAP therapy desensitization
- CPAP machine desensitization
- CPAP mask desensitization
CPAP Therapy Desensitization
CPAP desensitization begins with your attitude. First, start your CPAP therapy with a positive attitude and open mind. If you start therapy with a negative mindset that the CPAP mask will be uncomfortable, or there’s no way you’ll get used to all this or your sleep will be ruined by this thing, you’ll quickly find your experience will not be that great. Every little setback you experience will just serve as evidence to justify you stopping the treatment.
Now, if you start your therapy with the mindset of “although there might be some initial hurdles, with a little time you will adjust and benefit from this device by being able to sleep better, improve your health, boost your energy and mood and more”, you’ll likely have a much better time at adjusting to your treatment.
Try and give your use of your CPAP machine a good 30 days straight before you make any decisions on how you feel.
CPAP Mask Desensitization
During your CPAP titration sleep study (or split night study), it’s important to try several types of masks with low air pressure and choose one you like best before your study even begins. Waking a patient up at three in the morning to try a different CPAP mask on and then expect them to fall back to sleep is never a good idea. If you’re getting ready to have a sleep study that could lead to CPAP therapy and the sleep technologist doesn’t offer you the chance to try on a few masks first, you should ask yourself and insist on it.
Many individuals who suffer with claustrophobia will most likely be better off if they can get used to the air pressure by holding the mask to their face before they put the headgear on. The technologist should be patient with you and allow you to control the pace. With a little encouragement and practice, most patients become acclimated in just a few minutes.
Individuals sometimes experience further challenges getting used to their mask once they’re home. For this, you might want to use your CPAP while you watch TV in the living room, read, knit, etc. This will occupy your brain with something else instead of focusing on having a mask on and breathing.
For instance, If you’re anxious about using your CPAP machine, try wearing the mask outside your bedroom like in a recliner watching TV. This way you’ll get used to your mask while you’re away and are somewhat distracted. Not to mention, if you wait until it’s bedtime, you might become frustrated and associate it with anxiety and stress, making going to bed more difficult.
CPAP Mask Desensitization Techniques
It’s okay for individuals to require a period of time up to three months (30 days is usually all it takes) to adjust to being able to sleep with their mask on their face. They can become accustomed to wearing their mask by wearing it without the tube and CPAP while they read, listen to music or relax. This allows them to figure out the best fit to ensure comfort. It may also be beneficial to use CPAP while taking naps.
Here are some other suggestions:
- Become familiar with the CPAP machine, the mask and how CPAP will help you sleep with OSA.
- With the CPAP machine on, hold the mask to your face on a low-pressure setting while you’re sitting.
- Wear your headgear and mask with a comfortable fit and allow the pressure to increase to the prescribed air pressure.
- Try lying down once you’re comfortable with wearing the mask and the prescribed pressure.
- Ease mild nasal congestion with a saline nasal spray or nasal decongestant to alleviate more severe sinus or nasal congestion.
- Acclimate yourself to your mask only, away from your bedroom and outside your sleep period
- If you have soreness or pain on the bridge of your nose that persists, try switching to nasal pillows (a type of mask that fits in your nostrils).
- You might require two masks — one “over the nose” traditional mask and one nasal pillow type. Use both alternatively.
CPAP Machine Desensitization
To acclimate yourself to the device and overall CPAP therapy, try these techniques:
- Attach your mask to one end of the tube, attach the tube’s other end to the CPAP device and turn on
- Try using your CPAP device at home while you’re awake for one hour everyday
- Use the CPAP during one-hour naps
- Use the CPAP during the first three to four hours of nighttime sleep
- Use the CPAP throughout the whole night of sleep
CPAP machine desensitization steps move forward one step after every five days. When you can carry out a step without frustration or anxiety, move on to the next step.
Expect to put forth some “work” with your CPAP device. It’s essential you try relaxing when first starting CPAP therapy. You should inhale and exhale through your nose only. If you can’t breathe this way consistently, don’t lose hope or panic. There are other masks designed to allow you to breathe through your mouth or nose. Don’t throw the towel in after only a few attempts. Some individuals require at least three to four weeks (sometimes longer) to become acclimated to CPAP therapy.
CPAP Compliance and Benefits
Remember, consistent use of this therapy as directed can provide you with positive results as early as your first night. The trick to successful CPAP therapy relies on compliance. To be compliant, you need to use your therapy a minimum of four hours a night at a minimum of five nights a week.
Your therapy won’t work for you if you don’t at least try using CPAP for the minimum compliance time. Because of this, it’s vital you find the most accurate pressure setting and finding a right mask to stay compliant. So, if your mask fits and is comfortable, wear it. You’ll be so happy with the potentially life-changing results.
For further reading, read our blog post on the common problems with CPAP and their solutions.
David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it’s like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient’s perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.