Breathe Easier: CPAP Machines Provide Help for Problem Sleepers and Their Partners


By Tinka Davi
Chief of Snooze News
World Sleep Foundation

Is your partner a problem snorer? Does he – or she – seem to stop breathing for just a moment and then gasp for air? Or how about you? Do you wake up frequently during the night? Are days a drag?

Perhaps you or your partner have a breathing problem such as sleep apnea, a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the NIH (National Institutes of Health), breathing pauses can last a few seconds or even minutes and may occur 30 times or more an hour. Normal breathing starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.

The NIH also says that, in obstructive sleep apnea, the airway collapses or is blocked during sleep and, when the sleeper tries to breathe, any air that squeezes past the blockage can cause loud snoring which may disturb other people.

NHS Choices, the UK’s biggest health website, said those who have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) have two types of breathing interruptions. The first is apnoea. That’s when muscles and soft tissues in the throat relax and collapse sufficiently to cause a total blockage of the airway. “It’s called an apnoea when the airflow is blocked for 10 seconds or more.”

The second type is called hypopnea which is a partial blockage of the airway that results in an airflow reduction of greater than 50percent for 10 seconds or more.

“As many people with OSA experience episodes of both apnoea and hypopnoea, doctors sometimes refer to the condition as obstructive sleep apnoea-hypopnoea syndrome or OSAHS,” according to NHS Choices.

What’s the answer?

CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, is a treatment that uses mild air pressure to keep airways open.

A CPAP machine has a mask or other device that fits over the nose or both the nose and mouth. It’s kept in place by straps. It also has a tube connecting the mask to the machine’s motor, which blows air into the tube.

The machines are small, lightweight and fairly quiet, making a soft, rhythmic noise. Some CPAP machines have features such as heated humidifiers.

The CPAP is the best treatment for sleep apnea. Its mild pressure prevents a person’s airway from collapsing or becoming blocked.

The machine is prescribed by a doctor or sleep specialist who works with sleep-problem people to make sure the settings are correct. The physicians want to check to see if the air pressure from the CPAP machine is enough to keep the airway open while the person sleeps. That may call for the person to participate in an overnight sleep study to determine the correct settings.

According to the NIH, CPAP treatment has many benefits.

· It keeps the airway open while the person sleeps;

· It corrects snoring so others in the household can sleep;

· It improves the quality of sleep;

· It relieves sleep apnea symptoms which include excessive daytime sleepiness; and

· It decreases or prevents high blood pressure.

People who use a CPAP say they feel better, more attentive and better able to work. Many report fewer complaints from bed partners about snoring and disruption of their sleep.

There are different types of CPAP machines as well as other positive airway pressure devices. If you are having sleep problems, check with your sleep specialist about the options.

But give it time. You can’t expect the remedy to resolve the problem overnight. It may take a week or even a month to adjust to the CPAP machine.

Your aim is to get a good night’s sleep.