Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is the main treatment for sleep apnea, a breathing condition that affects thousands of people. This treatment is quite effective but adjusting to it is a daily struggle for the people who have to use a CPAP mask every night. The good news is that accessories like an apnea pillow can make treatment more comfortable and ensure a good night’s sleep.

    Things to Look for to Get the Best CPAP Mask Pillow for Seniors

    Your sleep apnea pillow on its own isn’t enough to cure this condition but can lessen the number of episodes you experience by adding comfort to the way you wear your nasal mask through the night. It greatly improves the quality of your sleep so you wake up refreshed the next morning.

    Man sleeping with CPAP machine.

    Things to Consider When Selecting a Pillow 

    Your sleep position can either improve or worsen sleep apnea so it’s better to sleep on your side or stomach as opposed to sleeping on your back. This isn’t easy, but the good part is a CPAP pillow is designed to make you as comfortable as possible while you sleep

    Contoured pillows nicely support the shoulders and neck of a sleep apnea patient when you sleep sideways. If you prefer to sleep on your stomach, get a pillow with a low height. It’ll keep the head and neck from being propped up uncomfortably while you lie down. A wedge pillow is best for those who just can’t help sleeping on their back. This is because it’ll keep your neck higher during your sleep.

    The loft or height of your wedge pillow greatly impacts the angle of your head and neck. Both influence the quality of your breathing and sleeping. As aforementioned, a low loft pillow is best for stomach sleepers. Back and side sleepers usually prefer a medium loft pillow to cover the area between the end of their shoulders and the side of their head. 

    Wedge pillows are made with many materials so you can easily find one that works for you. Latex is hypoallergenic and perfect for those with allergies. Silk apparently prevents wrinkles and acne while down and memory foam are good for those who want a pillow that keeps its shape. Choose wool or cotton if you want to maintain a stable body temperature.

    Obstructive Sleep Apnea

    Obstructive sleep apnea happens when all or part of your upper airway becomes blocked during sleep. Thus, your chest and diaphragm must work harder to open the airways and get air. Your breath becomes shallow and you may stop breathing for a moment, although you usually begin to breathe again, usually with a loud snort or gasp, even with a body jerk. Of course, you’re not sleeping properly as this condition also decreases the flow of oxygen to your organs. Uneven heart rhythms are common in apnea patients.

    Common obstructive sleep apnea symptoms include sleepiness or fatigue during the day. You might wake up suddenly and feel like you’re gasping or choking and have trouble getting up. There may be dry mouth or sore throat upon waking and even a headache. When you don’t sleep properly, you’ll have trouble concentrating, and become forgetful, depressed, or irritable. Snoring, night sweats, and restlessness are other common symptoms. 

    Do you share your bed with someone? They’ll surely notice your sleep apnea before you do. Still, your symptoms most likely include waking up several times during the night to pee, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and even high blood pressure.

    Elderly couple in bed.

    What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

    This condition happens when the muscles that control your airway tighten your throat, so you automatically wake up in order to reopen your airway. Most people don’t remember doing it as it happens quite fast. It can happen several times throughout the night.  

    Other things like obesity, swollen tonsils, endocrine disorders or heart failure block your throat and can lead to obstructive sleep apnea.

    Anyone can have obstructive sleep apnea but older black, Latino, or Native American males are more likely to have it. Those with a family history of sleep apnea will most likely be afflicted by it at some point in their lives, as well as smokers, people with asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, and obesity. Furthermore, people with a large or thick neck are more likely to have this condition as well as those with smaller airways in their nose, throat, or mouth. Too much tissue at the back of your throat that hangs down can also block your airway and so can a large tongue.

    Complications of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

    Adults have a higher risk of accidents, and children may have a hard time at school due to sleepiness and trouble concentrating during the day. Other complications are cardiovascular problems like heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke, and unusual heart rhythms. Not only that, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to dry eyes, glaucoma, Type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.

    Likewise, pregnant women could end up with gestational diabetes, underweight babies, and post-surgery complications.

    CPAP mask on white studio background.

    Diagnosis and Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea 

    Consult a physician affiliated with the American Sleep Apnea Association and ask them if any of your problems could be sleep-related. They’ll probably want to get more information from the people who live with you. They might ask you to spend a night in a sleep lab, but you can also have a sleep study at your home. The study tracks how many times you had breathing problems while you slept and the monitors you’ll wear measure eye movement, electrical activity in the airflow of your brain, blood oxygen levels, breathing patterns, heart rate, muscle activity, and limb movement.

    The treatment options include weight loss if you need it. In fact, losing as little as 10% of it will make a huge difference. You should also refrain from drinking depressants like alcohol and stimulants like coffee. This is because they close your airways and you can’t breathe for longer periods while you sleep.

    Furthermore, sleeping on your side can help deter mild sleep apnea if you’re used to sleeping on your back. Also, nasal sprays can help if you can’t breathe due to sinus problems or nasal congestion.

    Types of Surgery for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

    The first type of surgery for obstructive sleep apnea consists of an upper airway stimulator with a small pulse generator. Your doctor puts it under the skin of your upper chest. One of the wires goes into your lung and tracks your natural breathing pattern. Another wire goes up to your neck and delivers mild signals to the nerves that control your airway muscles to keep them open. You can turn it on when you go to bed and turn it off when you get up with the remote control.

    The second type of surgery is somnoplasty, it consists of the use of radiofrequency energy to tighten the tissue at the back of your throat. UPPP (uvulopalatopharyngoplasty) or UP3, the third type of surgery consists of taking out soft tissue in the back of your throat and palate to widen the airway at the opening of your throat. Furthermore, nasal surgery can correct obstructions such as a deviated septum.

    Finally, a mandibular/maxillary advancement surgery consists of moving your jaw and face bones forward to make the back of your throat roomier. This complex procedure is only suitable for those with problems with their head or face and severe sleep apnea.

    Woman putting on her CPAP mask in bed.

    The CPAP Mask Machine

    This device includes a face mask to wear over your nose or mouth. It features an air blower that constantly forces air through your nose or mouth. Just the air pressure can keep your upper airway tissues from overly relaxing while you sleep. The BPAP is a similar device but there are two levels of airflow and these change when you inhale and exhale.

    Your doctor can prescribe the use of a CPAP machine if you have a hard time choosing the one that best suits your needs. This equipment isn’t usually covered by the original Medicare and other insurers even though aging people might need to use it for a long time. Be sure to do your research and compare the available models before you purchase one. 

    The first thing to consider is comfort so be sure to have the best mattress you can afford to go with your contour CPAP pillow. Pressurized air requires a closed seal to be effective so CPAP machine users must wear specialized masks when they sleep. These are often uncomfortable and people stop using them so be sure the chin strap of your nasal pillow mask fits well. The most common problems are skin irritation, rashes, chafing, and sores.

    Furthermore, a CPAP mask that’s the wrong size will leak and the pressurized air will escape and reduce its effectiveness. Similarly, a mask that’s too tight will dry your mouth, irritate your eyes and add pressure to these. The straps come in different sizes to accommodate your head so find one that is soft and stretchy. 

    Wearing a CPAP mask every night is hard but luckily there are many CPAP accessories to adjust to the machine. For instance, you can choose a mask that covers your whole face or one with tubes that seal inside your nostrils. Some CPAP masks work best for those who sleep on their stomachs and there are even some for those who toss and turn all night. Experiment with accessories and find the one that’s most comfortable for you.

    Do you travel frequently? Then think about portability and find a compact model you can take with you. Some machines have an optional DC power supply to plug into your car and there’s also an integrated battery that’s ideal for traveling.

    A CPAP humidifier will prevent dry mouth and sinus problems caused by the stream of pressurized air. The way a CPAP humidifier works is it expels a fine mist of warm or room-temperature distilled water to moisten your nasal passages. Keep in mind that a CPAP machine with a heated humidifier attached requires space when selecting one.

    A ramp can temporarily lower the air pressure of the CPAP machine and allow the user to fall asleep more easily. The pressure then gradually increases to the prescribed level. 

    Newer CPAP machines are quiet, some more than others. Most of the noise you’ll hear while undergoing CPAP therapy is the sound of the air rushing through the tube. Still, you must consider the quietness of the motor.

    Types of CPAP Apnea Pillows

    Nasal Pillow

    This type of CPAP mask is great for overcoming problems like claustrophobia and air leaks. 

    Nasal Pillows We Love

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    CPAP Pillow

    These are particularly great for those who use a CPAP machine but also appropriate for anyone with sleep apnea. This is because you can use them to sleep on your side or stomach and the indentations on both sides accommodate the cables of the CPAP. 

    CPAP Pillows We Love

    Wedge Pillow

    A wedge pillow will be your best friend if you sleep on your back thanks to its sloped design that naturally elevates your neck during sleep and reduces snoring.

    Wedge Pillows We Love

    Cervical Pillow 

    The neck support of these types of pillows will relieve the pressure on your neck and keep you from straining it and keeping your airway open. You can select from the various loft options according to your sleep position. Generally, they’re great for back sleepers who can’t sleep on the higher elevation of a wedge pillow.

    Cervical Pillows We Love 

    The Importance of Sleeping

    Sleep studies conducted by the National Sleep Foundation indicate that sleep is essential for the body and mind to recharge and we’re supposed to wake up refreshed and alert. Sleeping strengthens the immune system and the brain cannot function properly without it. Thus, a lack thereof can impair your ability to concentrate, think clearly, and process memories.

    Healthy adults need about seven to nine hours of sleep every night and a healthy diet and positive lifestyle habits can help ensure you get an adequate amount. Thus, people afflicted with insomnia should know it could be the first sign of a more serious disorder.

    The Science of Sleep

    Humans have an internal body clock that regulates our sleep cycle. It controls when we get sleepy and are ready to go to bed and when we’re refreshed and alert enough to get up. This clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, has a 24-hour cycle. You’ll grow tired throughout the day after waking up day after day and the feeling peaks in the evening until your bedtime.

    This sleep drive is tied to an organic compound produced in the brain known as adenosine and its levels increase throughout the day. You grow more and more tired and your body breaks down the compound while you sleep.

    Furthermore, light greatly influences the circadian rhythm as your brain contains a special region of nerve cells. This hypothalamus along with the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a cluster of cells in it, processes signals when your eyes are exposed to light – natural or artificial. It’s these signals that help your brain tell day and night apart.

    Then, your body releases the hormone that induces drowsiness, melatonin when natural light disappears in the evening. The next morning when the sun rises your body releases cortisol, the hormone that makes you feel energetic and alert.

    Man sleeping peacefully.

    The Stages of Sleep

    Your body follows a sleep cycle divided into four stages and the first three stages are known as NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. The fourth is known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

    The first NREM stage marks the transition between wakefulness and sleep. The muscles relax and your heart rate, breathing, and eye movements begin to slow down along with your brain waves. This is the light sleep stage and the mentioned brain waves are still active. It usually lasts minutes.

    The main characteristic of the second NREM sleep stage is deeper sleep as your heart rate and breathing rates continue to slow down and your muscles relax. The eye movements eventually cease and your body temperature decreases. Furthermore, the brain waves remain slow besides those brief moments of higher frequency electrical activity. This stage is the longest.

    Stage 3 NREM makes you feel refreshed and alert the next day as the activity in your heartbeat, breathing, and brain wave reaches their lowest levels and the muscles relax as much as they can. This stage is the longest but its duration decreases as the night advances.

    The fourth stage, first REM, occurs approximately 90 minutes after you fall asleep. As per its name, your eyes quickly move back and forth rapidly under your eyelids. Also, your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure increase. Dreaming happens during REM sleep and so your arms and legs become paralyzed, most likely to keep you from acting out on your dreams.

    The duration of every REM sleep cycle increases as the night goes by and its duration decreases with age so you spend more time in the NREM stages. The four stages of sleep repeat all night until the moment you wake up. 

    Choosing the right CPAP pillow depends on your personal preferences, budget, the type of mask you use, and your preferred sleep position. Consider what you just read before you make a purchase.

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