I suffered thru 10 long years of sleep apnea before finally getting CPAP treatment. But even then it took more than 6 months of trial and error on the sleep machine before I could really use the machine the way it was intended. Over the first month with my Respironics BI-PAP Auto M Series I could only manage a meager 2.5 to 3 hours per night. After 6 months I was still averaging just about 4 hours per night.
And even then most nights consisted of at least 2 separate CPAP sessions. Sleep for a couple of hours, throw the mask off usually without even knowing it, wake up another hour later and put the mask back on. That was a normal night for me.
I tried everything. At least I thought I did. Some nights I’d stop eating several hours before putting the mask on. Other nights I’d snack just before going to bed, just to see the difference.
I changed the thread count in our sheets. I managed to make this a twofer; I bought some really nice 500-count sheets as part of an overall package of presents for my wife on Mother’s Day. No sneering; she got lots more than that believe me.
I tried all manner of adjustments to my CPAP equipment – mask changes, mask strap changes, putting the machine on the floor instead of the nightstand, changing the humidity level. One night I even preheated the distilled water before loading it into the machine. Crazy I know.
I spent plenty of time on the phone with the home health care company that set me up with my sleep machine. They are sick of hearing from me I can tell you. Over those early months I had reason to see my regular doctor frequently and we discussed my problems at some length. A consult with an ENT(ear nose and throat) specialist was mulled over.
By the way, isn’t that what the thing should be called: a sleep machine? You’d think one of the major manufacturers would figure that out and name a new model the “Sleep Machine 1000″ or something.
Over time as my claustrophobia diminished I was often able to keep the mask on for awhile even after I woke up in the middle of the night. Occasionally I was successful in going back to sleep, though that was certainly not the norm. This really bothered me. I had mostly mastered the mask, yet I still took it off even when fully awake. Why? Its not like I couldn’t breathe.
I realized that if I understood why the mask came off my head maybe I could come up with a solution.
All my life I’ve suffered from stuffed up nasal passages. Even when they are clear they are more clogged than the average person’s. That was a big reason why my first attempt at CPAP therapy failed several years ago. I was outfitted with a nasal pillows setup on my face. Worked great in the clinic, but failed badly at home. The claustrophobia was overwhelming, but I could have worked through that. But there was no getting around my stuffed up nose. It might be clear long enough to get in an hour, maybe two on the sleep machine. But never more. Throwing that much high pressure air at my face just guarantees I’ll get stuffed up at some point during the night, and sooner rather than later.
So on this go round I opted for a full face mask. If I can’t reliably breathe thru my nose, I’ll just breathe thru my mouth I thought. This certainly worked better if not well.
So why did I take the freakin’ mask off? I started making a mental inventory of my sensations and surroundings just before slinging the mask off. Not being the sharpest knife in the drawer it took a couple more weeks to realize that just about every time I took the mask off my nose was stuffed up. Really, really stuffed up. Yes, even though I was breathing thru my mouth.
Or that is what I thought at first. If I was really breathing thru my mouth why would I take the mask off when my nose clogged up? Was I really breathing thru my mouth after all?
I started paying closer attention to the first couple of minutes after I put on the mask at night. This was tough, because I fell asleep very quickly most nights, and to reduce potential frustration I waited till fairly late to turn in. When I hit the bedroom I was quite ready for the Sandman. I didn’t have the capacity for much in the way of higher thought processes.
So I started going to bed a little earlier. As soon as the CPAP machine started up I paid close attention to every breath. While I did indeed mouth breathe at first, as I started to relax this changed a bit. My nose got into the act too. It was a team effort, and responsibility changed from breath to breath. Often I inhaled with the mouth and exhaled with my nose. But the trendline was clear: my nose did more and more of the work as I got closer to la la land.
I started to wonder just how much I used my nose once I fell asleep. I could have asked my wife to listen closely. But she is on CPAP as well. And my CPAP is a bit louder than the average bear’s. My number on the inhale is 18, and on exhale its 12. Yeah, inside my mask it sounds like an airport.
I definitely used my nose to breathe at least somewhat during sleep. And I couldn’t get the mask off quickly enough when it clogged up. If I could unclog the nose maybe I could get a good night’s sleep. Eureka!
What unclogs noses? There are all sorts of drugs both prescription and over the counter for people who have colds. Why not look in the local pharmacy?
What I was looking for specifically was an antihistamine. Antihistamines are supposed to be for allergies, but they show up in cold medications too. And for good reason – they unclog noses, making cold relief possible.
I mulled over the many choices available down at the drugstore, finally settling on a generic version of Clairitin. Why Clairitin? The first line on the package says “Non-Drowsy”. I was already sleepy at night so I didn’t need the kind of sleep help the old standbys like Benadryl would provide. When it was time to get up in the morning I didn’t want to have to drag myself out of bed.
So I bought a package of generic Clairitin and gave it a shot. Did it work? The title of this story is “The Secret To My CPAP Success”, and you’ve plodded thru more than 1000 words of my ponderous prose. I’m not going to make you wait any longer: yes, IT WORKED! I’ve been averaging just under 6.5 hours per night of sleep on my CPAP machine for the last 13 months.
There is plenty more to the story and I’ll fill you in on the details later. If you are having problems complying with your CPAP therapy, consider making a trip to your nearby druggist and picking up a box of antihistamines. Make it a cheap purchase; individuals can have widely varying reactions to antihistamines. That is a big reason why there are so many available. And don’t buy anything but the antihistamine itself. Check the active ingredients. The number should be ONE. No more.
But all of them should work for you to some degree. If this works for you worry about perfection later. Just TAKE YOUR LIFE BACK!