Sleep apnea is a potentially serious medical condition affecting some 22 million Americans. It causes the sufferer’s breathing to stop repeatedly throughout the night for anywhere from ten to thirty seconds at a time, and if left untreated it can cause a wide range of side effects including high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. It has also been linked to an increased risk of sudden cardiac death.
Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form of the disorder, is the result of the upper airway becoming blocked during sleep, usually by the collapse of the soft tissues of the throat. Risk factors for this type of apnea include having a large tongue, an unusually narrow airway, or extra fatty tissue in the throat due to obesity.
One of the most frequently prescribed treatments for obstructive sleep apnea is the continuous positive air pressure machine, or CPAP. The CPAP prevents airway closure during sleep by blowing air into the wearer’s throat through a special face mask. Many users report positive outcomes including more restful sleep, reduced fatigue, and improved focus. Consistent users also experience a reduced risk of cardiac problems and hypertension.
Unfortunately, though these machines can help reduce the symptoms of apnea, the noise they make can be almost as disruptive to the user’s sleep as the apnea itself. And if you share a bed with your partner, there’s the additional concern that the noise will wake them up, too. The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce your CPAP’s noise production. Read on to discover just a few!
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1. Consider Repositioning your CPAP Machine
2. Ensure Your CPAP Machine Isn’t Leaking
Unusual noise during the “inhale” stage of the machine’s cycle can be a sign of a leak. These most commonly occur because your mask isn’t thoroughly sealed to your face, allowing ar to escape and producing excess noise. Not only can this be a noisy nuisance, but it can also compromise your CPAP’s functionality by adversely affecting its air pressure and flow. And if the leak is severe, your machine may stop delivering any therapeutic benefits whatsoever, as sufficient airflow is necessary to keep your airway open.
In addition to unwanted noise and a reduced therapeutic value, a leaking CPAP can sometimes cause dry eyes. If your mask isn’t fully sealed to your face, the machine can blow air directly into your eyes, leading to dryness and discomfort. If this occurs, it can usually be remedied by pulling the mask away from your face, then repositioning it to better fit the curvature of your face.
Finally, if the silicone of the mask has become wrinkled, creased, or simply worn out, it may be time for a replacement. Experts advise replacing your mask every six months to avoid the possibility of complications caused by leakage. As always, it’s important to ensure the mask is correctly fitted to your face. Some users may try to remedy a loose fit by tightening the mask excessively, and though this will create a stronger seal around parts of your nose and mouth, it can also lead to further leakage elsewhere.
3. Make Sure Your Humidifier is Functioning Properly
Nowadays, many CPAPs come with built-in humidifiers to help keep the airway moist and reduce dryness in the mouth. These features can help reduce a great deal of the discomfort sometimes associated with using a CPAP, but they come with their own set of disadvantages, including the need for regular maintenance and the potential to be disruptive to the user during sleep.
Not every CPAP machine comes equipped with a humidifier, but if yours does be sure to inspect the water level regularly. Over time, a CPAP’s humidifier will gradually deplete the machine’s water supply, leading to a telltale sound known as the “CPAP whistle,” or, occasionally, a noisy gurgling sound. Fortunately, this can be fixed by replenishing the water supply with clean, fresh water.
Because it happens gradually, you may not notice immediately that your CPAP is making any unusual noises until they become too loud to ignore. If you start to notice a whistling or gurgling sound you’re unaccustomed to hearing, checking the water level first will save you a great deal of hassle later.
You should be equally attentive to the condition of your CPAP’s house. If the end of the hose has been improperly affixed to the mask, air can leak out during use and produce a hissing noise. Likewise, if the hose is kinked or constricted, the obstruction can cause a hiss as well, or it can cause excess pressure within the hose that can make the water in the humidifier bubble.
4. Guard Against Leaks with a CPAP Pillow
One of the main challenges of sleeping with a CPAP machine is remaining comfortable while also keeping the mask securely attached to your face. Many users find it difficult if not impossible to avoid shifting position in their sleep, which in turn can dislodge the mask and lead to leakage.
5. Use White Noise to Mask the Sound of Your CPAP
Many white noise machines work by producing sounds most people consider calming including falling rain, ocean waves, thunderstorms, chirping crickets, and other sounds from nature. But although “white noise” is commonly used as a catch-all term for soothing sounds, it does have a specific definition: noise with equal power across all audible frequencies. It helps reduce the noticeable difference between background noise and sudden sounds.
Many people use white noise machines or apps to help filter out bothersome environmental sounds such as nearby traffic, barking dogs, or chatty neighbors. Some parents also find that a white noise machine next to their baby’s bassinet helps encourage more restful naps with fewer wakings. But white noise can also help neutralize the sound of your CPAP machine so you can enjoy a more restful night’s sleep while still breathing easy.
6. If All Else Fails, Consider a New CPAP Machine
CPAP machines can be expensive, and if you’ve already paid for one you’re probably resistant to the idea of purchasing another. For that reason, this is the last recommendation on our list. If you know your mask is sealing properly, your hose isn’t obstructed, your humidifier has been filled to the appropriate level, and the machine is resting on a stable surface – and white noise hasn’t erased any remaining, distracting sounds – then it may be time to consider a newer, quieter CPAP.
As medical technology has become more sophisticated, CPAP technology has gradually become quieter and less obtrusive. So if your current machine is so loud that the noise it produces can’t be disguised, a newer machine may be just the thing you need. As always, consult with your doctor before committing to such a purchase and make sure the CPAP you have in mind will suit your unique needs.
Sleeping with a CPAP can come with an entourage of frustrations including difficulty maintaining a consistent seal, noise pollution, trouble finding a comfortable position to sleep in, and more. Fortunately, there are plenty of accessories on the market today to help make your CPAP easier to use.
With proper cleaning, maintenance, and some support from trusted manufacturers, you can soon be well on your way to a more restful night’s sleep. Sweet dreams!