The Beginner's Guide to CPAP Therapy

A couple looks at the instructions while holding a mask for a CPAP machine. Get started with using your CPAP with our beginner's guide.

You've just been diagnosed with sleep apnea. While this may be frightening, it's the first step to improving your sleep and overall health! Your physician has likely prescribed you a continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP machine, as a form of treatment therapy. A CPAP machine is the most common form of treatment for sleep apnea, and it works to ensure your airways are open as you sleep. You'll finally get some relief with your new device, but like any new treatment, it may take some adjusting to get used to your new machine. 

The CPAP Rundown

 Like any new form of treatment, CPAP machines can be a little intimidating for someone who has never seen or used one. The CPAP machine is a device that will ensure you get the air you need while sleeping. In order to do that successfully, it needs some nifty accessories to support it. The CPAP machine consists of many components such as a mask, tubing, filters, and humidifier chamber. Just looking at these extras can feel daunting, but know that you are one step closer to a healthier life and a better night's sleep. Here is some advice for a first time CPAP user to help you ease into therapy and get the most out of your CPAP machine!

CPAP Beginners Guide

 First things first, take a deep breath and go easy on yourself! You'll get the hang of it before you know it. In the meantime, here are some tips to help ensure your CPAP therapy is successful:  

Adjusting to your New Mask

  Your new CPAP mask is probably the most essential piece to your machine, but it can also cause claustrophobia. Most people aren't used to wearing masks to sleep, but you will need to get used to them for your new CPAP therapy. 

No need to fret. The best thing you can do is practice wearing your mask throughout the day. It helps to detach the mask from the machine and wear it around the house; no need to turn it on; just get comfortable with the mask itself. This way, you can get comfortable and move around as need be.

So, if you are sitting on the couch watching your favorite show, go ahead and throw on that mask. It helps to start with small increments. Wear it for five minutes, then give yourself a break for an hour or so. The next time you put it on, wear it for ten and then 15 minutes and so on. This practice will help you prepare for your first night's sleep in your mask while it is connected to the machine and delivering your pressurized air. It would be best to practice this for as long as it takes you to be entirely comfortable sleeping with your new mask. You don't want to overwhelm yourself, so just trust your gut on practicing with your mask.

Be Consistent with your Therapy

 Consistency is critical in everything you do. If you want to be successful, you must be consistent. I'm sure you've heard that your entire life, and that's because it's true. The same sediment is true for your new CPAP machine and therapy. 

The best thing you can do for your CPAP therapy is to keep up with it. To get the most out of your CPAP machine, you need to use it on a nightly basis. When used effectively, CPAP therapy will give you a better night's sleep. A good night's sleep will translate to feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world. If you don't use it nightly, as prescribed, your chances of getting used to it will decrease drastically. 

If you are worried about forgetting to use it, you can do a couple of things to help. Firstly, you should place your machine on your nightstand. That way, it's always in sight as you wind down and get ready for bed. Plus, your device is likely compact enough to fit without taking up too much space. If your bed sits lower, it may work positioned to the ground, so you don't have to worry about your tubing not stretching far enough. 

Another thing you may do is set yourself a daily reminder or alarm on your phone. This reminder is especially helpful if you intend to put the machine away in the morning instead of leaving it on the nightstand. The best thing for you to do is have a bedtime alarm set so you don't forget to pull it out at night. After a couple of weeks, you should have a routine formed.

Finding the Right Accessories

 It is not one size fits all when it comes to a CPAP machine and all the accessories. The main component that you may have to do a trial run with is the mask. 

There are three main types of CPAP masks for you to choose from:

The main difference between these masks is how they sit and fit your face. The nasal mask covers your entire nose. The full-face mask fits over your nose and your mouth. The nasal pillow mask sits comfortably under your nose and has two little pillow cushions for your nostrils. The full-face mask offers the most coverage, while the nasal pillow is the smallest and lightest option. 

Based on your comfort level and sleeping habits, your provider will suggest which mask will be the best fit for your therapy. The good thing is that there are plenty of options to choose from, regardless of which mask type you select. For example, if you choose a full-face mask, some possibilities include the ResMed AirTouch F20 or the ResMed AirFit F30i. This variety helps ensure you find a mask that works for you, even if you have to try a couple first. 

Clean & Replace your CPAP Equipment

 With your new CPAP therapy, you'll have to develop some new hygiene habits. These machines and their parts need to be cleaned and replaced regularly. Here is a cheat sheet that will tell you how to clean and how often to replace your supplies.

CPAP therapy works by providing pressurized air to ensure your airways remain open as you sleep every night. You can expect your hosing, mask, and other accessories to require regular cleaning with so much usage. It is good to set yourself a reminder to clean these parts daily so you don't forget. If you don't feel up to routine cleaning, CPAP cleaning and sanitizing machines on the market will do the cleaning for you, like the SoClean machine.

Regardless of how often you clean, these components will eventually need to be replaced. Here is a cheat sheet to know how often specific parts need to be replaced.

Modify your Machine & the Settings

 If you have tried all these tips and are still unable to stand your new machine, you may want to talk with your doctor about updating the settings. When you receive your device, it will already to programmed with the pressure prescribed by your physician. 

If you purchased a ResMed brand CPAP, your machine will come equipped with ramp settings. What is the ramp setting? This unique feature allows you to reach the prescribed pressure setting gradually. Picture this alternative scenario. You climb into bed and secure your mask, turn the machine on, and boom, you are bombarded with all the pressure at once. It can be uncomfortable and even painful at times.  

While this may be the amount of air your doctor prescribed, it's hard to get to sleep comfortably with that much air coming at you. The ramp feature changes the game. It will start that pressurized air on the lowest setting upon turning on your machine and gradually increase as you fall asleep until it reaches the prescribed pressure. 

Give yourself Some Grace

 CPAP therapy is new to you, and it can be overwhelming. If you follow the tips in this beginner's guide to CPAP therapy, your journey is sure to be a pleasant one. No matter what you do or which accessories you choose to buy, be sure to give yourself some grace. Remain patient with yourself, and don't be afraid to advocate for yourself.

Some questions you should be asking yourself in the beginning weeks:

  • How well can I breathe?
  • How comfortable am I?
  • Is my mask a good fit?
  • How does the pressurized air suit me?

If there is any prolonged discomfort, don't hesitate to consult your doctor. Your doctor can give you suggestions and guidance on what you need to change or adjust. 

It may be a matter of finding a better mask that suits you, or you might just need to keep playing around with your settings. No matter what you need to do, just know that your doctor will work with you until your CPAP therapy works as designed and meets your needs and comfort.  

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