What Is It Like to Use a CPAP?

Updated on April 24, 2020
NateB11 profile image

I've been diagnosed with severe sleep apnea and use a CPAP to sleep at night. This represents my direct experience with the CPAP.

My CPAP machine.
My CPAP machine. | Source

I'd been diagnosed with severe sleep apnea and was scheduled to see a respiratory therapist to pick up my CPAP machine to start my treatment for this condition I'd finally discovered was plaguing me for years. Well, the fact that it had been plaguing me for years was partly revealed to me, though I had my suspicions, by the therapist at our meeting.

She had said that sleep apnea was the problem that had been causing all of these other medical issues I'd had for years: high blood pressure, edema in my legs, and breathing problems. She said once I start using the CPAP it was very likely these problems would start to disappear. She also said she had a friend die of sleep apnea back when people didn't know about it.

I was taking it all in, and it felt good. I was finally figuring out what has been wrong with me. I'd been going around tired all the time, barely breathing, and unable to sleep. My health was on a steady decline, to the point I was even hospitalized because my oxygen level had reached a dangerous low.

This is what brought me to this point in which I was picking up this CPAP machine and taking in all this needed and valuable information. Turns out the respiratory therapist and my doctor can read, remotely, how I'm doing while using the CPAP at home. How cool is that?

Logistical Tips

  • Make sure the straps on your mask are tight enough so that air is not escaping from it while you use the machine. It's harder to get good readings if air gets out this way and you're not getting the full benefit. The straps are easy to adjust. They are Velcro and easy to find and use. The straps go over your head when you put the mask on.
  • Make sure you have the right size mask. The respiratory therapist will help with that. I use a medium one. It fits over my nose and mouth snugly, which helps to keep the air in the mask and going into your airways.
  • If you are told to use oxygen with the CPAP, make sure you turn the oxygen on first when you start to use the machine. At least, this is what helps me remember to turn on the oxygen. I've found I'll forget to turn it on if I don't do it first.
  • Check the water. There's a compartment where you put distilled water for the humidifier on the machine. It's easy to use, comes out of the side of the machine, opens up, you fill it with water, put it back in place in the machine.
  • A button on top of the machine with a green light turns the machine on. (See picture near the bottom of the article.)
  • Try to exchange email addresses with your respiratory therapist. This makes it easier to communicate with them, and since they can see how you're doing remotely, you can discuss the results via email or phone easily—without having to schedule appointments and going out and meeting. I suppose this is particularly relevant during the current shelter in place orders due to the Coronavirus.

Velcro strap for tightening mask on CPAP.
Velcro strap for tightening mask on CPAP. | Source
A sort of latch on the side of water container on CPAP. You pull it and open the container so you can fill it with distilled water for the humidifier.
A sort of latch on the side of water container on CPAP. You pull it and open the container so you can fill it with distilled water for the humidifier. | Source
You simply pull the container out, you might have to wriggle it a little bit.
You simply pull the container out, you might have to wriggle it a little bit. | Source
Open up the container and pour water into it.
Open up the container and pour water into it. | Source

First Three Days

The first thing I noticed is that it felt like my lungs had expanded. It's like air finally got into them. All of a sudden you are breathing when you sleep.

During the day, you will feel like you have started to get some rest. Not going to lie, you most likely won't be a hundred percent, but you're going to be feeling better. You're breathing will be better too. Again, not a hundred percent, but noticeably better.

Now on the front of the machine is a small screen. It lights up when you first turn the machine on and when you shut it off too. When you shut it off, it will light up and you will see how you did last night when you were sleeping. It will show how many hours you slept - I find this valuable because I've spent so many years not having enough sleep, I like knowing how much sleep I've gotten. And the readings will show how many events there were when you were sleeping. These events are breathing problems you had during the night. I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea so I started at about 30 events but when I started using the machine it had probably dropped to about 20 in the beginning.

You will also get a reading of mask/air leakages, meaning how many times air escaped the mask. You'll get a sad face if it's happened too much. Again, as I stated, if you are getting a bad reading here the quick fix is to tighten the mask: It worked for me.

Also, notice there is a knob to the right of the screen. If you push on the front of the knob, it will light up the screen if you want to look at your readings anytime. Turning the knob allows you to navigate what's on the screen and, again, you push the button to click on things on the screen.

After One Month

Going to jump ahead to a month of using the machine.

  • One noticeable thing is I stopped dropping things. It's a symptom of apnea, and it was a problem I was having, that your hands and arms spasm and you drop things. I was amazed at some point, realizing I hadn't dropped anything in awhile, and I no longer had spasms in my arms and hands.
  • You will likely feel better rested. Before I used the machine, I was falling asleep all the time during the day: At work, while watching TV, waiting in my car for a friend that I'd taken to the store. Well, I wasn't getting any sleep!
  • Using the machine becomes a major relief on your breathing. Especially when drifting off to sleep. I was no longer jerking awake, gasping for air.
  • My breathing during the day is more often better. I have bad days, especially when there are a plethora of allergens in the air. But no doubt it would be worse if I wasn't getting any sleep at night because of an inability to breathe.
  • Before I used the machine, I used to get cramps when I was exerting myself even a little bit. I'd get these very painful abdominal cramps and foot and leg cramps. I notice I stopped having them. It seems the muscles are getting more oxygen, and I'm able to use them better.
  • I also notice I'm less foggy-headed and not losing my concentration as much. It seems the brain is also getting more needed oxygen and also getting more rest and the right kind of rest (REM sleep and deep sleep).
  • I'm also less irritable. I had been easily irritated at the height of my severe sleep apnea. A lack of sleep and the brain getting no oxygen evidently was taking its toll on me.
  • I also used to have morning headaches before I used the machine, but they have now stopped. This seems to be due to finally getting oxygen and breathing better.
  • Events (of breathing issues during sleep) have decreased down to a range between 3 to about 10-15, depending on the night. A marked improvement from my original 30-plus events a night!

A button on top of the machine turns it on, which you use when ready to use the machine at bedtime, after you've put he mask on. Notice too, the screen on front and a knob to the right of it.
A button on top of the machine turns it on, which you use when ready to use the machine at bedtime, after you've put he mask on. Notice too, the screen on front and a knob to the right of it. | Source

When I first used the CPAP it was strange. Air being forced into your airways is a strange and almost unnatural feeling. In the hospital, I had to use a BPAP which is worse. At first, I thought I was suffocating. A strange and terrifying irony. But as I got used to it, I felt relief.

The CPAP is not as forceful as the BPAP, not in my experience. So, it's not as shocking when you use it. But it takes some getting used to. As I said, you do adjust to it. Just breathe normally and the machine adjusts to you and you adjust to it. Now, for me, it's just part of my bedtime routine and I have an extraordinary feeling of relief that I have it and while I'm using it.

To recap, sleep apnea symptoms that had been eased for me after using the CPAP:

  • Stopped dropping things or having spasms
  • Felt better rested
  • Breathing improved
  • Stopped getting muscle cramps
  • Improved concentration
  • Less irritable
  • No more morning headaches

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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