The Frustrations of Starting CPAP
Last updated: May 2023
Starting continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy can be scary and overwhelming. It takes time and patience. When I first started therapy, I thought I would take to the therapy without any issues. Well, I was wrong.
I remember laying in my bed the first night with my nasal pillows in, trying my hardest to keep my mouth closed and fall asleep. Everything that I had expected was completely wrong.
I felt frustrated and defeated
Being a respiratory therapist in the sleep field, I have worked with thousands of CPAP users. Many who were able to take right to therapy. My expectation was that I would too. After what seemed like a lifetime of laying in my bed trying to breathe, all while tuning out the sound of my breathing, I decided I couldn’t take it.
I turned my machine off and took my mask off. I felt defeated, frustrated, and honestly, disappointed in myself. However, I knew just like anything else, it would take time. I pushed through the uncomfortableness and wore my mask a little longer each night.
It takes time to acclimate
I often share the analogy that it’s like the first time I got glasses. It took time to build up my usage time. Before I knew it, I was wearing my glasses all the time. The same thing goes for CPAP therapy. While some are able to put their mask on and go right to sleep, it takes others time to acclimate.
I was one of those people who needed time to acclimate. In the beginning, I would read or watch TV with my mask on. This helped to desensitize myself to having a mask on. I would say this is the biggest hurdle when adjusting to the therapy. It’s foreign having a mask on while we sleep, let alone having air blowing at you. Once I felt comfortable wearing my mask, adding the pressure was the next hurdle.
Getting used to hearing myself breathe
There were 2 things that really made it difficult for me when adding the pressure: exhaling, and the fact that I could hear myself breathing. Yes, that is really weird and distracting when you are trying to fall asleep.
What helped me get over the annoyance of hearing myself breathe is playing classical music as I fall asleep. It helps to quiet my mind and distract the sound of my breathing.
Adjusting to the feeling of air pressure
Now for the pressure, well, that is something that takes time. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, so you always have the pressure blowing at you even when exhaling.
The best way I can describe it to those who haven’t experienced CPAP is sticking your head out of a moving vehicle. The sensation of having your breath taken away can be unpleasant. However, once you have become acclimated to therapy not having the pressure blowing now makes me feel claustrophobic. It’s funny how things can change.
Advice for others starting a CPAP journey
The thing that I found to be extremely helpful – that most people forget about – is to go to bed when you're tired. This also helps prevent laying in bed staring at the ceiling with your CPAP on.
Adjusting to therapy takes time, so if you are just starting out on your CPAP journey, be patient with yourself. Remember, you are not alone on this journey. Us CPAP users have all struggled at one point or another.
Wearing your CPAP is crucial for your health, so if you do get to the point where you feel like you're going to quit, reach out to your doctor. They can help you navigate whether it’s a pressure issue or if you need to talk to your respiratory therapist for mask help.
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