I’m getting a fair number of people here from the search engines, and from the traffic reports its clear that plenty of people have a hard time complying with their CPAP treatment. Let me share with you one of the techniques I used to learn about myself and the difficulties I’ve had with CPAP.
I started a spreadsheet. Every day I entered some basic details into it about the previous night’s sleep: the date, the total hours spent on the machine, the actual number of hours spent in the bedroom, and the number of times I put the mask on. I augmented these columns with some formulas to keep track of recent compliance.
So how did I keep track of all of this info every day? Every CPAP machine these days provides all sorts of measurements. My CPAP, and I think every machine made today keeps track of the total number of hours of sleep logged. The number of hours you slept last night is just today’s total hour count minus yesterday’s total hour count.
Now the machine can’t do it all for you. I also kept track of when I entered the bedroom. Not down the minute mind you. But I’d get it down to the nearest 15 minutes, e.g. 12:30am, 11:45pm. And I’d keep track of the times I put the mask on in my head.
All of this info helps you in a couple of different ways. The first is pretty obvious. You can correlate your nightly sleep totals with various environmental variables: bedroom temperature, the time you went to bed, the sheets you are using, etc. This will definitely help you increase CPAP compliance.
For example, I quickly learned that the colder the bedroom the better I slept. Now this is a general sleep tip too, but one I didn’t really grasp before CPAP. And for CPAP users the effect is a little different than for the general population. If you use a heated humidifier, the temperature inside your mask will definitely feel warmer than the surrounding air. If your bedroom is warm, it will feel quite warm under the mask.
As a result I dial up the humidity during the winter when the room is colder, and dial it down during the warmer months.
But there is another, more subtle benefit of detailed daily record keeping. I’m talking about the simple ability to keep the mask on. When you dedicate yourself to analyzing your sleep you become a detached observer of your own behavior. It becomes much easier to deal with any fears you have towards your sleep machine when you get caught up in keeping track of all that data. I would even keep a small pen flashlight on my nightstand so that when I woke up during the night with my mask off, I could check the machine’s numbers to see how long I’d actually slept since the last time I put the mask on. I’d then check that against time on the clock to figure out how long it had been since I took the mask off, which I often did without even knowing it.
The point is that gradually my fears of the CPAP mask receded because I was so preoccupied with diligently measuring my nightly sleep numbers. I didn’t have the time or energy to indulge my phobias. Plus it made me more aggressive in putting the mask back on in the middle of the night: I needed not just the sleep, but more numbers for my study. And over time the repeated wearing of the mask wore down my mild – and to my mind perfectly natural – claustrophobia.
Now you don’t need to get quite as geeky as I was about it, flashlight and all. Check with your significant other before you bring it into the bedroom. But it did definitely help me in learning about my problems.
Turned out the most common time for me to lose the mask for the first time was about 1.9 hours after putting it on. That is just about the time it took me to complete my first sleep cycle; from light sleep to heavy sleep and back. Something was causing me to wake up instead of going back into heavier sleep and another cycle. At first my phobia was to blame. But as more data accumulated and I got better at putting the mask back on I figured out the real culprit and took steps to solve it.
So open up Excel and get cracking. Don’t have Microsoft Office? Fine, surf on over to Open Office and download their free software. The spreadsheet component is called Calc. Do you have a GMail account? Then try clicking that link labeled “Documents” up at the very top of your browser window. The fine folks at Google have provided not just a web-enabled word processor, but a spreadsheet facility as well. It ain’t as full featured as Excel or Calc but it is more than capable of handling this small task.
So what was the solution to my CPAP problems? That is for another post. Right now you need to know that you can beat sleep apnea, and that keeping a daily record of your progress will give you both the information and confidence you need to benefit from CPAP. Believe me, if I can do it you can do it. Take your life back!