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What Happens if You Skip CPAP Therapy?

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By improving your breathing while you sleep, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines help you get a longer, deeper sleep. If you use a CPAP machine, you will notice that no matter how strict you are with your therapy, there are times when skipping a night of therapy is tempting.

Although this can be difficult to avoid, skipping your therapy can have significant health implications, as well as the possibility of developing a dangerous habit. 

Keep reading to find out about the various risks that can come as a result of skipping CPAP therapy, and the many actions you can take to improve your machine use.  

What Are the Impacts of Skipping CPAP Treatment?

Skipping your CPAP treatment, even for just one night, can have significant consequences. 

The impact of skipping your therapy will differ considerably depending on the individual and the extent of their sleep apnoea. Some individuals with sleep apnoea are able to skip a night with minimal impacts, whilst others may notice that their overall progress with CPAP therapy is greatly reduced.

Overall, it is likely that many of the following factors will affect all individuals with sleep apnoea to some extent.  

Fatigue and Exhaustion

Your CPAP machine keeps your airways open throughout sleep, ensuring that you sleep without breathing pauses and snoring. While these sleep apnoea episodes cause you to wake up throughout the night, they also deprive your brain and body of oxygen. As a result, you will notice that you wake up exhausted and fatigued, which will impact the rest of your day. 

As the extent of this fatigue will differ depending on the individual, you may find that you are more or less affected depending on the extent of your sleep apnoea (for example your AHI, or Apnoea-Hypopnoea Index), as well as other factors. 

Heart Problems 

Skipping your CPAP therapy can significantly impact the health of your heart. If you suffer from sleep apnoea and skip a night of therapy, the risk of a heart attack or stroke whilst asleep is significantly higher.

For example, this can be seen in hospital patients with sleep apnoea who, after leaving the hospital, do not consistently or correctly continue with their CPAP therapy. These individuals are twice as likely to find themselves readmitted to the hospital within a month due to heart problems. 

Closing of Airways

An important part of CPAP treatment is that it reduces the swelling of the tissues that line your airway, a common aspect of sleep apnoea. This swelling affects both your nose and throat, and will affect your breathing not only throughout the night, but also during the day. 

If you decide to skip your CPAP therapy, you might notice that your breathing is impacted throughout the night as well as in the day. Ultimately, skipping your treatment can impact much more than just your sleep, and can cause you significant discomfort throughout the day.

Solutions to Common Reasons for Skipping CPAP Therapy

There are plenty of reasons as to why you may be tempted to skip your therapy. Outlined below are a few of the most common reasons, as well as what you can do to improve your CPAP use. 

Travelling and CPAP Therapy

Probably the most common reason tempting someone to skip their therapy is the inconvenience of travelling with a CPAP machine. While it can be a hassle to drag your machine around with you, there are a few things that might be worth keeping in mind to make it easier.

  • Travel machines: The most convenient solution is to check out any of the travel machines available on the market. These machines are typically smaller in size, with fewer components and less weight. Some great options include the ResMed AirMini, as well as the Philips Dreamstation Go Auto
  • Planning ahead: When you can, it is important to consider your CPAP therapy in your travel preparations. This planning will allow you to make the most of various travel situations. For example, if you are flying, you can usually bring your device as an extra carry on (provided you bring your prescription). A good travel plan will ensure you are prepared for any other possible needs, such as having a travel case, or bringing the correct power adaptor or compatible battery if necessary.
  • Being ready for unexpected situations: A possible solution, although not always useful, is to have a second machine for unexpected events and situations. If you are a frequent traveller, having another machine in the boot of your car can keep your therapy organised and consistent. This way, your home CPAP machine stays at home, while you have another machine ready for wherever you go.

Your CPAP Equipment  

Unsuitable equipment can make it very easy to put off your CPAP treatment, and understandably so. You may not even realise that your equipment isn’t correctly fitted to your specific sleep apnoea needs. A well matched CPAP equipment can significantly improve your willingness to use your machine, so keep the following tips in mind. 

  • Make sure you have a correctly fitting CPAP mask. When it comes to the style and sizing of your mask, an incorrectly fitting mask will have leakages, and can cause skin irritation, pressure sores, a dry and stuffy nose, and a dry mouth. Plus, it will be more difficult to fall asleep in general. Be sure to check with your sleep apnoea specialist that your mask is the best option for you. 
  • Getting a humidifier is definitely an important consideration to make – particularly if you are experiencing dryness and congestion. This happens due to the increased air pressure of CPAP machines, and a humidifier will significantly improve this part of your CPAP therapy by adding warmth and moisture to the airflow. 
  • Excessive noise coming from your CPAP device can make falling asleep extremely difficult, discouraging you from using the machine. Whilst most modern CPAP devices are almost completely silent, your machine may make excessive sound if it has a problem. If this is the case, make sure your air filter is clean and unblocked, and if this fails, get in contact with your machine supplier or sleep apnoea expert. If it turns out that your machine is working properly, try placing the machine as far away as possible during sleep (you can consider extra tubing if it is available). Other solutions you may want to try include earplugs or a white noise machine. 

Getting Past the CPAP Adjustment Period

If you are new to CPAP therapy or are having trouble getting used to using your CPAP machine, there are nights where you may be tempted to avoid using it. Instead, there are plenty of things you can do to make the CPAP adjustment period easier. 

  • Making your CPAP therapy a habit can be difficult and may take a while, but patience and consistency is key in getting used to your CPAP machine. Once you are past the initial stages of CPAP therapy, you will find that using your machine is habit, and no longer something that you have to think about. 
  • When you are still getting used to your CPAP therapy, you may experience trouble tolerating forced air. This can be either when breathing in, or breathing out. There are multiple solutions to this. For example, many machines will have features such as intelligent detection, which slowly increases the pressure while you fall asleep. If you are finding that you have trouble with forced air, talk to your sleep apnoea specialist. 
  • As for noise concerns and other problems with your machine and mask, check out the previous section of this post. 

Conclusion

The impact of skipping CPAP therapy will differ greatly depending on the person in question and the extent of their sleep disorder. However, the majority of CPAP users will find that they gain the most benefit from CPAP therapy with consistent nightly use. 

CPAP therapy can be difficult to continue with in certain circumstances. However, not only does consistent use condition your brain and body to get the most quality of life benefits from CPAP use in the long term, but it also prevents the short term impacts of skipping CPAP therapy.

Ultimately, if you find that you have to skip your CPAP therapy for a night (and are sure that you can do so) be sure to get back into it as quickly as possible. In saying this, it is important to consult your sleep apnoea expert for personalised advice, as the impacts of skipping CPAP treatment differ greatly from person to person.

For more information on sleep apnoea treatment and CPAP therapy, check out our blog in the link below.