As many sleep apnea sufferers can attest to, the first time you try your CPAP mask: you hate it. The main problem is our mindset. Many of us feel hesitant about wanting to wear a mask, in any capacity, while we sleep.

A 2008 research study1 hailing from the Canadian Respiratory Journal reports that almost half of those who try the treatment, or are merely diagnosed with sleep apnea, wind up not doing the treatment at all.

The study reports the following:

  • 43 of 80 patients (54%) were still using CPAP and most reported an improvement in symptoms.
  • 12 of 80 patients (15%) had abandoned CPAP after using it for approximately 10–15 months.
  • 25 of 80 patients (31%) had never commenced therapy after initial diagnosis and CPAP titration.

Many continue sleeping like they always have, not realizing years later that their health will suffer for it. But finding out you have sleep apnea shouldn’t result in a negative mindset. Instead, it should be the opposite: You found out before it’s too late and, thankfully, there’s a treatment that will have you feeling better than you ever thought imaginable!

Sleeping with CPAP is the beginning to living a more energized and healthy life. It takes some time to adjust to, but I hope these tips will help you adjust faster and have you sleeping like a baby – with your CPAP mask.

Tip 1: Practice makes perfect

This is just like wearing a watch or ring for the first time. It feels weird. The same applies to your mask. If you don’t get accustomed to wearing it, you’ll have trouble sleeping with it. Wear it as much as you can, before using it at night, at first.

If you’re sitting around the house relaxing during the day, wear it. If you don’t want to do that, then wear it for an hour or so before bedtime every night.

The more you get used to wearing it, the sooner you’ll have sweet dreams.

Tip 2: Use your mask every time you sleep

This, of course, is very important. In medical terms, physicians call this “patient compliance.” Pro tip: Don’t use it one night, but not the next. Make sure you’re using it every night, and for naps (if you’re a frequent napper), even it’s a bit uncomfortable at first. Get yourself in a routine in the beginning by putting it on as soon as you get finished with another routine, such as brushing your teeth, for example.

If you don’t take it seriously and use it daily, as is recommended, CPAP treatment can’t help you! Wearing a mask nightly takes time to adjust to: Just like your first week at a new job, it can be nerve wracking! Trust the treatment. Your mind and body will thank you for it later.

PRO TIP | FROM THE RESMED CLINICAL TEAM

“Yes: Don’t skip nights, as this will only prolong the time it takes to adapt to your mask. Also, in regards to napping and CPAP beginners, it’s important to avoid naps because they reduce your sleep debt. Believe it or not, sleep debt is a good thing to have when you’re adjusting to CPAP treatment because it makes you feel more tired at bedtime. This in turn makes falling asleep easier to do while you’re getting used to your new equipment. The more tired you are, the faster you’ll sleep with CPAP. And the more you sleep with CPAP, the more familiar and second-nature it will become. For those who are anxious about CPAP, and enjoy naps, practicing with your new CPAP during a nap is a good idea, but the advice may not be one-size-fits-all. It’s also important to remember that CPAP masks have come a long way over the years. At ResMed, we offer a wide range of comfortable options.”

Tip 3: Make small adjustments to your mask nightly

This is fairly self-explanatory, but again, important. If you’re waking up with red marks on your face, loosen the mask up a little. If it falls off your face in the middle of the night, tighten it up. Even if your physician or medical equipment provider personally fits your mask for you, it still doesn’t mean you can’t tweak it to make it more comfortable.

As long as you’re receiving CPAP treatment, it’s alleviating your sleep apnea symptoms and you’re comfortable: you and your doctor will both be happy.

PRO TIP | FROM THE RESMED CLINICAL TEAM

“In addition, make sure, if you’re making adjustments, you do so lying down and with the device on. Many masks inflate slightly with the air on; this is a function of how they seal.”

Tip 4: Make sure your mask is fitted for YOU

It is very possible that you may head online and discover the best CPAP mask for you after you have some experience with one – but not so much if you’re new to CPAP. You need to make sure your sleep physician is going to fit you with the right mask and treatment. They usually will, so no worries, but just in case, be upfront and open with him/her and speak up on how important it is to you. Sometimes we have to be our own patient advocate in such circumstances.

A popular brand to start with, is of course, ResMed and I’m not saying that just because I am writing this article on their site. When I think CPAP, I think ResMed. They have set the standard for sleep apnea treatment products.

Tip 5: Use ‘AutoRamp™ Mode;’ it’s there for a reason

This is the most popular setting on (almost all) CPAP machines. The AutoRamp setting allows you to adjust to air pressure by starting at a very low air pressure setting while you’re trying to fall asleep and then increasing to full pressure after you’re asleep. The reason for this feature is so you can fall asleep easily and comfortably, and then get the full treatment while you’re sleeping.

I can almost promise you, if you lay down that first night using CPAP, put on your mask, and turn on your machine without trying AutoRamp Mode: you’re going to think, “There is no way I can do this!” Therefore, don’t do it!

Tip 6: Use a humidifier if your nose or throat is dry

This will not apply to all, but does apply to many. Keeping your nose and throat moist is a must when receiving CPAP treatment. All that air pressure can and will make it drier than what you’re used to, especially if your room is already lacking moisture. A humidifier should do the trick. You can find them in most big box department stores, or online; they’re typically inexpensive and will provide you with much comfort.

PRO TIP | FROM THE RESMED CLINICAL TEAM

Humidity is essential for success with CPAP, and while room humidifiers are good, CPAP machines now come with their own heated humidifier and heated tubing. Being able to custom-tailor the right amount of humidity for your body can help keep your throat and mouth less dry, for a more comfortable experience.

Tip 7: Wear gloves if you’re having trouble keeping it on

I see and hear the question all the time: “I wake up the next morning and my CPAP mask is not on my face. I don’t remember taking it off. How do I keep it on?” Wear gloves. It doesn’t matter what kind, but preferably gloves with a poor grip, or no grip.

I know this may sound ridiculous, or you may feel ridiculous doing it, but it’s not something you will be doing permanently. The gloves will help prevent you from pulling off your mask in the middle of the night – when you’re unaware you’re doing it. Gloves will feel weird when you try them at first, which in turn will make you conscious of it. After you train yourself this way for a week or so, you should be able to throw the gloves back in the drawer.

PRO TIP | FROM THE RESMED CLINICAL TEAM

“Many patients who take their masks off, do so in their sleep, and often do this if they are taking sleeping medication(s), or have a history of disruptive sleep patterns, such as sleep walking or talking. If you’re consistently experiencing this type of issue, speak to your MD regarding possible causes for this and treatment options.”

Final thoughts

The key idea in all this is: Be positive. The moment you start feeling negative about the mask and the treatment, that’s the moment you’re going backwards. You could even enlist a family member or close friend to be your support, and share your feelings with them.

But most importantly, take the tips above and go in with the right attitude to conquer your CPAP therapy and, most importantly, give yourself a healthier life. After you become adjusted, it is no different than any other routine (bathing, brushing your teeth, shaving) during the day. Years down the road, you will thank yourself for it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Aaron Stevenson is a public educator, health freak and founder of www.snoozeez.com, a go-to source for many sleep-related topics. Aaron studies, researches and blogs about all things sleep. You can follow him here on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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