The main problem with PAP therapy is that the mask can often cause discomfort. Depending on your preferred sleeping position, you may experience situations where the mask presses very uncomfortably against your face, and the hose itself can pose problems.
Sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders affecting people around the globe. Millions of Americans are forced to deal with it, as it is a condition without a real cure. This illness is characterized by a temporary loss of breath while the patient is sleeping. Obstructive sleep apnea, for example, happens as a result of a physical blockage in the patient’s airways during sleep as the muscles in those airways relax (often letting the tongue cause a further blockage), which can cause choking or snoring or wake the person up. Sleep apnea can have a whole host of negative consequences, making it a priority to treat.
Despite the absence of a proper cure, treatment options exist. There are a few different types of sleep apnea you may encounter, and these come with specialized treatment methods. The primary way to deal with this condition is PAP treatment. PAP stands for positive air pressure, and the treatment method is very straightforward. An airflow generator uses its built-in fan to draw in the outside air, which is then humidified and pressurized, before being sent towards the patient through a hose that is connected to a mask on their face. How much pressure and humidity is applied (along with other factors) depends on the specific recommendation from your doctor, and is largely connected to what kind of sleep apnea you’re experiencing.
The main problem with PAP therapy is that the mask can often cause discomfort. Depending on your preferred sleeping position, you may experience situations where the mask presses very uncomfortably against your face, and the hose itself can pose problems. In this article, we will go over various masks and the sleeping positions they’re made for. If you find that your mask isn’t ideal for your sleeping position, you may want to consider a change or some adjustments to how you sleep so you can comfortably deal with the symptoms of sleep apnea. Let’s get into it.
Depending on which type of sleep apnea you’re dealing with, different airflow generators will suit your therapy requirements and needs. Continuous positive air pressure therapy (or CPAP for short) is the go-to option for dealing with OSA or obstructive sleep apnea, and these generators maintain a fixed and steady airflow intensity throughout the night. Exactly how much pressure and humidification you need depends on your medical exams and prescription.
On the other hand, Bi-level positive air pressure (or BiPAP for short) offers two main airflow options – higher and lower pressure. These options correspond to inhalation (higher intensity) and exhalation (lower intensity), helping regulate breathing in patients with central sleep apnea (CSA), where their brain cannot send the signals for breathing regulation properly.
Another popular treatment option is APAP therapy. APAP stands for automatic positive air pressure, and these generators stand out thanks to their ability to automatically adjust to the patient’s breathing patterns. For mixed sleep apnea (MSA – which is just a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea), this treatment produces the best results. However, because it offers different airflow options, it’s flexible enough to cover both ends of the spectrum as well.
PAP therapy masks are what all your comfort worries will likely revolve around. Much like with generators, you require a prescription to purchase a PAP therapy mask. Luckily, almost every mask is compatible with all types of airflow generators. Keep in mind that these masks are often all labeled as “CPAP therapy masks,” even though they’re versatile enough for other kinds of therapy. Make sure to get additional information from your doctor or the salesperson. Here are the main kinds of masks you will encounter in pharmacies near you:
There’s more to a PAP therapy mask than just its categorization, however. Each mask consists of a few separate parts that are worth examining individually, so you know what you’re purchasing. When you compare specs, these are the things you will want to be aware of:
Depending on your preferred sleeping position, not every PAP therapy mask is ideal. Choosing an unsuitable option can lead to discomfort, increased sleep onset latency. It can also render the entire PAP treatment setup pointless, as the mask can detach or have an opening for the air to escape. Let us look into what kind of features you want to consider based on your potential sleeping positions:
Side sleeping is without a doubt the most popular sleeping position – and the healthiest one, according to sleep experts. However, side sleepers face certain unique issues when it comes to wearing CPAP masks. If you’re a side sleeper, you want to think about these factors:
Overall, these factors don’t limit the type of mask you can use. Just make sure that the cushioning and flexibility are good enough to maintain an airtight seal, and that the headgear fastening components are at the back of the head, not on the sides.
While not as common as side sleeping, back sleeping is still quite popular. Problems arise when the back sleeper suffers from sleep apnea, as it can increase the potency and frequency of sleep apnea symptoms by causing the breathing muscles to relax and the tongue to fall into the throat. This sleeping position makes the following factors important:
The combination of these factors makes full face masks and nasal cradles the optimal choice if you want high-pressure treatment, whereas the increased maneuverability of nasal pillows and prongs helps deal with unhelpful arm movement if you don’t need high air pressure.
Stomach sleeping is the most uncommon preferred position, and it is one that sleep experts recommend against at all costs. Even without a CPAP mask to cause further discomfort, the act of sleeping on your stomach pulls down your center of mass, which can put considerable strain on your neck and even cause lower back pain. Luckily, it’s easy to narrow down the critical factors for CPAP mask selection for this position:
Stomach sleeping puts you in a bad spot when it comes to mask options. Stick to nasal prongs and pillows, since those apply less pressure on your face, and make sure the elbow port is mobile enough to avoid a portion of the discomfort. If at all possible, avoid sleeping in this position (even if you don’t need PAP treatment).
Michael is a professional writer based in Boston and someone who has always been fascinated with the mysteries of sleep. When he’s not reading about new sleep studies and working on our news section, you can find him playing video games or visiting local comic book stores.
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