The Inconvenience of Treating Sleep Apnea

4 min read

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but living with untreated sleep apnea is utterly exhausting. Unfortunately, treating it can be pretty annoying, too.

This year, after much insistence from my husband, I visited a sleep specialist. For a while now, I’ve felt tired all the time. Walking-around-in-a-permanent-fog kind of tired. The type of tiredness where you close your office door and put your head on your desk for ten minutes. But no matter how much you sleep, you never feel better, or even refreshed, and I was sleeping ten to twelve hours a night if I could get it.

My sleepiness got particularly worse over the last few years. Especially in the last two, probably because I’m at a desk job now. Previous jobs had me on my feet more. Though, getting older doesn’t help either, I’m sure.

Still, I ignored the signs of a serious problem for longer than I should have. I passed it off as me being me–I can act like old lady in so many ways, why not this one, too?

I think it only solidified for me as a real problem after I joined Columbia Writers’ Novel in 6 program, and needed to meet daily word count goals. For me, the best time to write is when I get home from work, but I found myself able to stay up until only six or seven before feeling utterly exhausted. It just wasn’t enough time to meet my goals.

When the doctor confirmed I have sleep apnea, I wasn’t particularly surprised. For one thing, it runs in the family. But I was surprised by how annoying it is to treat.

(By the way, I have so-called mild sleep apnea, based on the number of apnea-hypopnea events I have each hour. But let it be known that even a low AHI can be incredibly disruptive to your quality of life.)

Obstructive sleep apnea, the kind I have, is a problem where your throat muscles relax and block your airway, briefly suffocating you. You sleep poorly because your brain has to keep waking you up to tell your throat to stop trying to kill you. It’s often treated with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine, which comes with a mask that you put on your face. It pushes air down your throat all night to keep it from closing.

If that sounds uncomfortable, you’re right! A 2008 study found that long-term compliance among sleep apnea patients was only 54%. That’s not great.

Why would such a large chunk of people say no thanks to treating their sleep apnea? I’ve got a few theories, based on personal observation.

It’s uncomfortable to wear a mask all night.

My mom (the likely source of my sleep apnea suffering) told me it would take a year for me to get used to my machine. A year.

Here’s to counting down the months!

You gotta keep it clean

Upkeep on your machine is important. You have to regularly take the tubing and mask apart to sanitize it.

Now, the risk for getting an infection from your CPAP machine is low, but it does increase when you add some “creature comforts,” like a humidifier. And if you aren’t regularly cleaning it, your may notice a funky smell to your mask.

The settings aren’t always right.

It is critical to have right settings for your CPAP machine. And you get one sleep study for the technician to figure it out. No offense, but one night’s rest in your weird sleep experiment hotel with a bunch of wires hooked up to my face, brain and body isn’t exactly my typical night.

Oh, and it’s not only the machine’s settings you need to worry about. Don’t forget about the mask, with all it’s straps and adjustable doodads. I used nose pillows that were a size too big for a month before realizing I needed to try the smaller size. What convinced me? Waking up with a nose rubbed bloody.

Older CPAP models offered fewer features and settings.

Newer CPAP machines display lots of useful information and sometimes come with software for the patient.

This means if you wake up tired, you can check your machine to see that there were leaks, or your AHI index was unusually high. You can use that information to adjust your mask or your pressure settings the next night.

By contrast, older machines hid some settings behind patient menus and provided little to no feedback.

Using the CPAP machine is too sexy.

Nope, that was sarcasm. It’s not even a little sexy. So if you’ve got a bed partner, hope they’re cool with you turning into Vader every night.

Treating sleep apnea… is still worth it

But despite all the inconvenience, treating my sleep apnea is so very worth it. It’s a game changer. I literally got hours back in my day, and a new bounce in my step.

So, thank you, CPAP machine! You’re a pain in the ass, but I love you anyway!


Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

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