CPAP therapy is widely considered to be the gold standard1 for treating all three types of Sleep Apnea. CPAP therapy provides a constant airflow as you sleep, keeping your airway open so that you can get through the night without interruptions. The level of airflow needed varies person to person, which is why participating in a sleep study is usually recommended.
But once you’ve done all that, how do you know if your CPAP therapy is even working? And what can you do if it isn’t? This article covers ways to check and evaluate if your therapy is working, and provides some helpful things you can try if it isn’t.
Finding the Right CPAP Mask Will Improve Your CPAP Therapy Compliance
When CPAP therapy is prescribed, you’ll also need to consider the CPAP masks available and which accessories you might need. For example, if you breathe through both the nose and mouth while sleeping, you may need a full-face mask. Someone who sleeps on their side should look into flexible masks, with comfortable nasal pillows. Even with all of these factors figured out, you might still be wondering: is my CPAP therapy actually working?
Signs That Your CPAP Therapy is Working
The goal of CPAP therapy is to give your body a continuous stream of oxygen to end restless nights and lapses in breathing. Below are some tell-tale signs of successful CPAP treatment:
- You feel more rested during the day
- You don’t get headaches in the morning
- You can focus on tasks more clearly
- You don’t snore as much
- You don’t wake up in the night as much
- You don’t find yourself waking up and gasping for breath
- Your breathing while sleeping is more continuous
These are all good signs and show that your CPAP therapy is working.
Know for Sure – Tracking Your AHI
Most CPAP machines have some way of telling you what your AHI readings for each night are. AHI measures the effectiveness of CPAP therapy. The lower the score; the better you slept. Lower AHI readings often correlate to a reduction of Sleep Apnea symptoms and will make you feel better overall. If your nightly AHI readings are looking good, it’s a sign that your therapy is working. If your AHI numbers are not so good, you may need to make some changes to your routine.
CPAP therapy can have a cumulative effect for some people, and it may take a while for you to notice the benefits– even if your treatment is working.
Signs That Your CPAP Therapy is NOT Working
While we all hope for perfect treatment, this isn’t always realistic. Let’s look at how to tell if your CPAP therapy is not working, and what to do about it.
You’re still snoring and experiencing symptoms
Just when you thought your sleepless nights were over, you’re snoring again. Snoring is a sign that you’re not getting continual and constant air pressure from your CPAP machine. This is either due to your CPAP mask leaking or the air pressure on your machine not being high enough.
You’re tired during the day
The most common problem that Sleep Apnea sufferers encounter is lethargy during the day, which may cause them to take long naps and lack the clarity they need to perform simple daily tasks. This could be due to an unrecognized mask leak or an inadequate treatment pressure. Weight gain, increased alcohol use, and aging may spark the need to increase CPAP pressures.
Check in with your doctor to see how your CPAP therapy can be improved by adjusting your pressure setting.
You’re breathing cold air
If the air coming from your CPAP machine is anything but a comfortable lukewarm, there may be something wrong with your humidifier. The hot plate that heats the water may not be working properly. This also applies if the air feels excessively dry. In this case, your humidifier may not be working.
To assess how well your humidifier is working, notice how quickly the water in its chamber goes down. The chamber should be refilled every 2 or 3 days.
Your CPAP machine isn’t working properly
Like with all technology, CPAP machines don’t work forever. If your machine is making odd noises, there isn’t consistent air pressure, or it won’t turn on, it’s time for a replacement. Upgrading your CPAP machine will ensure you’re getting the best Sleep Apnea treatment possible.
CPAP Therapy Isn’t Working: What Can You Do?
If your therapy isn’t working, there are a few things you can try. As a Sleep Apnea patient myself, I recently went through something similar. I moved across the country to a different climate and my AHI levels skyrocketed. For one, the humidity was greater than the place I left. It was also much warmer during the summer. Night after night, my AHI levels were out-of-control and my sleep was terrible. To get my therapy back on track, I did two things:
- I trained myself to sleep on my side. Sleeping on your side uses gravity to help open the airway while sleeping on your back uses gravity to close it. While naturally a back-sleeper, it was initially very hard to change my sleeping position. But after repeatedly doing it, I was eventually able to stay on my side all night long. My AHI levels dropped by as many as 3 – 4 points as a result of making this one change.
- I made sure my mask was tight before going to bed. If your mask leaks, you won’t get the benefits from your therapy. Tightening the mask can help resolve issues with leaks. Avoid over-tightening as you can hurt yourself. You might want to consider opting for some products designed to stop mask leaks as these can help improve your sleep.
Taking these steps allowed me to get my therapy back on track, and today my AHI is less than 2 every night.
Talk to Your Doctor
After undergoing CPAP therapy for a few months, assess your condition. Are you feeling less tired during the day, or are you still needing that lunchtime nap? Are you getting a full night’s sleep, or still waking up too much?
The above signs will help you determine whether or not CPAP treatment is working for you. Always contact your doctor with concerns.
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American Association of Sleep Technologists. 5 Alternative Sleep Apnea Treatment Options. Published on the official online magazine of the American Association of Sleep Technologists on August 14, 2017. Accessed on October 17, 2018.
Daniela has researched and published over 60 articles covering topics that aim to inform and empower people living with Sleep Apnea. As an avid reader and researcher, Daniela continues to grow her knowledge about Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy everyday with the help of coworkers, CPAP.com customers, and members of other CPAP communities online.