Sleep apnea can be treated using a variety of therapies, including both invasive and non-invasive treatments. CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is the most common treatment for the most common type of sleep apnea – obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Sleep Apnea 101
There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the airway routinely collapses during sleep, causing you to momentarily stop breathing, sometimes for several seconds. This happens when the muscles surrounding the airway are overly relaxed or enlarged. After you stop breathing, your body is jolted awake just enough to begin breathing again. Often, the airway collapses again, sometimes several times during the night, creating a cycle of breathing-not breathing that keeps your body from falling into a deep, relaxed sleep.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when the brain actually forgets to signal the body to breathe. After some time, the brain detects low oxygen levels or heightened carbon monoxide levels and signals the body to breathe. Again, this creates a breathing-not breathing cycle that leaves you tired and keeps your body from fully utilizing the restorative powers of sleep.
- Complex sleep apnea (CompSA) is a combination of OSA and CSA, meaning that your airway is blocked and your brain forgets to signal your body to breathe.
Most sleep apnea patients use some type of positive airway pressure machine, whether that’s a CPAP, automatic airway pressure machine (APAP), a variable positive airway pressure (VPAP), or a Bi-level positive airway pressure machine (BIPAP). CPAP machines are the most commonly used type of treatment.
How Does CPAP Work?
The answer is right in the name. A CPAP machine uses continuous pressure to force oxygen through the airway. A CPAP mask covers the nose, or the nose and the mouth, and is connected to a machine through plastic tubing. The machine pumps oxygen to the mask and into your airways. The continuous pressure helps keep the airway open throughout the night, which prevents the airway from collapsing. A collapsing airway is what causes obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and continuous airway pressure is one of the most effective therapies for preventing apneas.
Benefits of CPAP Therapy
Regular, prolonged use of your device—that is, at least seven hours per night—will help you stay asleep and increase the quality of your sleep. Better sleep means health benefits in both the long and short term, including:
- Less daytime drowsiness
- More energy
- Better heart health
- Lower blood pressure
- In diabetics, better glucose management
Side Effects of CPAP Therapy
Though CPAP is the most commonly prescribed and most effective therapy for treating obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), some patients have difficulty sleeping while wearing the mask. If you are still having trouble sleeping while using your machine, talk with your doctor about alternative therapies.
Other side effects may include nasal congestion, sore throat, and eye and skin irritation. In the beginning, you may experience more frequent dreaming while using your machine. If these side effects don’t subside, talk to your doctor about ways to mitigate these side effects, or about switching therapies.