In Praise of CPAPs

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One of the things I evangelize to whomever will listen, lately, is our CPAP machine. Ok, well, technically it’s my husband’s CPAP machine, but it’s made such a difference in both of our lives that I like to think of it as “ours”.

Now, if you are like 90% of the people I know, you are at this very moment thinking “What the heck is a CPAP machine?�

It’s a device which is designed to help with sleep apnea (help to stop it, that is, not to induce it – that’s another machine for a much more sinister purpose). As you may be aware, sleep apnea has some very unpleasant side effects, such as inability to achieve REM state, sleep deprivation, and, oh, death.

But in addition to helping with sleep apnea, a CPAP machine helps with that other condition which keeps one from achieving restful sleep… SNORING! Of course, in this case the one who can’t achieve restful sleep is usually your spouse, or your children, or the people on the next street over.

“CPAPâ€? stands for “Continuous Positive Air Pressure”, and it works by applying, well, continuous positive air pressure through your airway while you sleep. This is a fancy way of saying that you strap a small nose-covering mask onto your face (think nitrous mask at the dentist – oh, right, suuuure you’ve never had that), which is hooked up to a smallish box which generates a constant gentle flow of air through the mask, through your nose, and into your airway, while you sleep. Keeping the airway open, and keeping it from collapsing onto itself, prevents both apnea and snoring.

While this may sound uncomfortable as all get-out, it’s not, although it does take a day or two to get used to it. But that is a very small price to pay for what you get in return: genuine, deep, honest-to-goodness sleep. And that’s just your spouse, your kids, and the guy on the next street over.

For the CPAP wearer, the benefits are beyond measure. Because along with the cessation of snoring and finally getting restful sleep (which you didn’t even realize you weren’t getting until your wife forced you to get the CPAP machine), you get increased energy, clarity of thinking, and a happier disposition. No, really. Headaches go away (and I don’t mean your wife nagging you about your snoring), that pesky falling asleep at your desk becomes a thing of the past, and your boss promotes you and gives you a raise (ok, I made that last one up, but hey, it could happen!)

Seriously, we had two sets of very close friends independently tell us how getting a CPAP machine changed their lives, and oh-so-much for the better. In the first case, the husband’s snoring was so bad that he’d had to move out of the bedroom, and into another room down the hall. The very first day he brought home his CPAP machine he moved back into the bedroom, where he has remained ever since (and hmm…they have since had another baby…).

But it was the telling of his experience by our other friend that convinced us (well, me) that we should look into this for ourselves. This friend has some very serious apnea, along with the snoring. The kind which lead to his wife not being able to sleep not only because of the noise, but because she was afraid he’d expire on the bed next to her – if the noise stopped it meant that his breathing had too.

Now is a good time for me to explain that in order to get a CPAP machine, you must have a sleep study performed. This is where you go to a clinic for the night, let them paste electrodes all over you to monitor your breathing, your oxygen saturation levels, and the like, and then tell you to go to sleep. And amazingly, you do. Then in the morning they tell you what they observed, and if they think that you may benefit from a CPAP machine they have you come in for a follow-up night with the CPAP.

So our friend went in for the sleep study, and his apnea was so bad that half-way through the study the doctors woke him up, and said “put this mask on now,� and off he drifted, back to sleep).

In the morning, when he woke up, he felt, in his own words, “like a new man”. He couldn’t believe the difference in how he felt, and that was after sleeping in a completely strange, clinical environment, and with only about 4 hours of using the machine. He said that he never knew what it felt like to actually get good sleep before, and he’d had no idea what he’d been missing. He felt elated. He also said that the week he had to wait before he could actually have his own machine at home (due to his insurance) was agony – once having finally known what it was to truly sleep, he couldn’t wait to have that kind of sleep again!

So, on the strength of these strong recommendations, and my own desire for both of us to get some decent sleep, after I must confess much pushing and even, yes, nagging, my husband went in for a sleep study. Then he went in for the follow-up, and they said “yes, we think that you would be helped by a CPAP machine – even though you don’t have full apnea, your snoring causes apnea-like conditions”. So he slept a night there with the machine, them figuring out the ideal pressure for him (the machine can be programmed for pressures ranging from gentle like a gnat’s breath to full-on gale force), and in the morning sent him on his way with a prescription for the machine.

And from that very day, we have never looked back. It’s been wonderful. We both sleep well now, and we are both ever so much happier. He has increased energy, clarity of thinking, and a happier disposition. His headaches have gone away, he no longer falls asleep at his desk, and hey, he even got a promotion and a raise.

And now you know why we call it “the Marriage Saver”.

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