CPAP Hurray!

The results were in: mild sleep apnea but severe hypopnea. I’d be getting a CPAP machine, and maybe getting some sleep.

Sleep apnea is a condition where, basically, you stop breathing when you sleep. Your body goes in to a fight-or-flight reflex to wake you up. The not breathing and the adrenaline combined mean someone with sleep apnea doesn’t get a lot of sleep, restful or otherwise. Hypopnea is a less severe form; you don’t stop breathing completely, instead you breath shallowly.

A normal person might experience four such “events” an hour. In terms of actual apnea, I experience an average of six an hour. Mild. Factor in the hypopnea, however, and I have an average of 40 events an hour. That is, I basically wake up 40 times an hour.

I received a really cool hypnogram that shows just how well (ha) I sleep:

My sleep test results.
The top chart is my hypnogram, showing how long I spent in each sleep stage.  The second shows major repspiratory events. The third is how much time I spent in various sleep positions (biased because of the stuff I had to wear). The fourth is my oxygen levels, and the final is limb movement.

My options: a second sleep study or to start on the CPAP but on the lowest level. The sleep study would be able to determine the process levels I need; starting on the lowest CPAP level means that I might need to tinker with the settings for a while.

Then I learned it would be a minimum of four weeks before I could get in for another sleep study. Four more weeks of not sleeping, of bad dreams and nightmares, of feeling like crud all of the time. I thought I would cry. Given the mildness of the actual sleep apnea, I decided to try the CPAP machine. My sleep specialist explained I could always do another study later if I needed to.

CPAP stands for “Continuous Postive Airway Pressure.” It’s not an oxygen machine, it just pressurizes the air, which helps stop/prevent obstruction.

A grey CPAP machine

Ahhh, but one does not just buy a CPAP machine (at least not if one wants the cost covered by insurance). (For those interested, the sleep study was about $2000 and the CPAP machine is also about $2000. I pay 20%.) I had to set up another appointment with the Home Services people. And despite the name, they did not come to my home, I had to visit their facility to get set up.

The earliest appointment was for a day I’d be out of town for work. Argh. Finally, the appointment was made for July 2nd. I began counting down the days.

My husband picked me up at 2:15 for the 3:00 appointment. We took the back road, usually quicker that time of day. No. We got stuck behind a line painting truck. That is, a truck from the DOT repainting the yellow and white lines on the road. We were stuck going six miles an hour. I sighed and called to let the respiratory therapist know I’d be late. Luckily, we were just five minutes late.

I met with the respiratory therapist at the same facility I’d had my sleep study. The therapist is only at this facility on Wednesdays; as such, he doesn’t have an office and was working out of one of the bedrooms. Which was kind of weird, yes.

First, the therapist explained how to use the machine and how to clean it. Once a day I have to clean the mask and refill the water, once a week I have to clean… something, I should re-read the directions, and once a month I have to clean… something else.

The machine has an SD card that records my sleep data. I can upload it the Sleep Mapper website. Because I’m a millenial, I already have. The insurance company also tracks this data; they will only pay for the machine if I use it at least four hours a night, 21 nights out of 30.

A chart showing how much I use the CPAP.
Woohoo, 100% mask fit!

The therapist asked if I wanted nose pillows or a mask. I said mask, but he insisted on starting with the pillows. Nose pillows are like earbuds for one’s nose. The end is inserted into each nostril. I put the nose pillows in and immediately started coughing. Was it psychosomatic? Maybe. Did not want.

Silicone nose pillows for use with a CPAP.
The respiratory therapist gave me some nose pillows anyway.

So then I got to try a mask. Much better. The mask only covers my nose (there are larger ones that cover more of the face, too). So we got that all fitted and that was it. The machine was packed up and I was on my way.

The therapist explained it’d be about 2-5 weeks to really see any effects. However. The placebo effect works wonders for me. I take a Tylenol and instantly feel better. So I had high hopes.

However, it was hard to sleep that night. I had wound up taking a (CPAP-less) nap so I didn’t even start getting ready for bed until midnight. I put on the mask and it was okay at first but then it was… itchy, heavy. (It’s silicone, so not actually itchy or heavy.) It fell off a few times, which woke me up. I thought, “No, I can’t do this.”

A woman wearing a CPAP mask.
I’m ready for the DANGER ZONE in my CPAP mask.

I felt weird the next day. Tired and not tired. That semi-groggy feeling like after taking a sleeping pill. It was a tough day at work; we were all tired and ready to go. We were all misunderstanding each other.

I came home and took a nap with the machine. I tightened the straps and my sleep was a million times better. That had been the problem the night before: the mask wasn’t tight enough.

Alas, I still battle with the mask a bit, and the hose that connects the mask to the machine. I have a lot of hair, so it’s tough to get the mask at the right tightness. The hose is long, flexible, and light, but still drags a bit, and I can’t easily sleep on my stomach.

Like that first morning, I still feel… odd. Tired but not. Not crummy, though. Just confused, maybe. So long without sleep, my body doesn’t know what to do. And the best part is that since using the CPAP is that I haven’t had any bad dreams or nightmares. This is a small sample size; it might all change the next time I sleep. But this is the longest I’ve gone without bad dreams. It’s amazing.

And now I can daydream about all of the things I will do now that I no longer feel so tired all of the time.

2 replies on “CPAP Hurray!”

I thought I had early onset Alzheimers. But it was sleep deprivation. I have hypopnea. For me, it started each night at 3:30 am. I use the full face mask and I love it. Even for an afternoon nap. And they are prevalent. When I had it in my carry-on at the airport and it went through the x-ray, the screener looked up and said “Apnea?” They must see a lot of them.

Yes, the placebo effect. I love that too. Within three days, my mind cleared. I love that machine and it’s become my white noise generator. I tried 5-6 different masks until I found something that fit my face. So worth the effort.

I slide the hose between the bed and the headboard. That keeps me from rolling around on it.

Thanks for talking about the “little black box.”

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