man frustrated in bed showing how people feel when CPAP stressing you out

15 Remedies worth a try if CPAP is stressing you out

By Jason Wooden, PhD and Kristal McKinney, LICSW, CMHS | January 30, 2021

If CPAP is stressing you out, there are plenty of reasons people have a hard time adjusting, some obvious and some not so obvious. 

Depending on your situation, your options include adjusting your setup, relaxation exercises, trying a different treatment, and various other remedies. 

A sleep therapist can help identify underlying issues that could be adding to the stress.

Feeling stuck because CPAP is stressing you out…

After living as a sleep deprived zombie, you finally got an answer with your sleep apnea diagnosis.  There’s hope you could reclaim your life because there’s an effective treatment.

It’s CPAP, the gold standard for treating sleep apnea, and you have yourself a brand new CPAP machine.

Only there’s one problem…

You’ve tried it out for multiple nights and find that CPAP is totally stressing you out.

Talk about frustration.

Sleep apnea is frustrating enough but when the treatment is so stressful you would rather not use it you’re now talking about double frustration.

As great as CPAP is, too many people abandon it within the first year.  In fact, studies suggest that anywhere from 30 to 50% of patients stop using their CPAP machines or never bother to fill their CPAP prescription.

That’s a real shame because we know how effective it is once it’s working. We know how much is at stake for you, your relationships, and your family.

And untreated sleep apnea can lead to life threatening health complications that can result in an untimely death.

If you’re feeling stuck, it’s understandable.

Let’s take a deeper look at what’s happening and what you can do to keep CPAP from stressing you out.

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The many reasons CPAP is stressing you out

Before we get into your options, we need to take a look at what’s happening when you hook up to your CPAP set up.

That’s because what you do about it depends on the causes.

There are plenty of reasons people have a hard time with CPAP, some obvious and some not so obvious.

You need an honest answer to why CPAP is stressing you out.

Some of reasons people struggle with CPAP include:

It’s new and uncomfortable

For most of your life, you’ve been sleeping with a pillow and blanket.  It’s not uncommon for people to have a hard time getting used to the CPAP machine noise, hose, blowing air, and the face mask.  Some people feel claustrophobic when everything is hooked up.

Doesn’t seem to be working

For some people, they notice a difference the first night in how they sleep.  For others, they have to go throw an adjustment period with themselves and the machine settings before they see results.

Desperate for things to get better

You really want to see big results right away and it’s a real let down when it doesn’t happen.

Complaints from a spouse

You’re not the only one who has to get used to CPAP.  It’s not uncommon for a spouse or bedmate to complain about the noise and blowing air from a CPAP machine.  Besides adding to the stress of starting CPAP, this can become a big enough of an issue to make some people stop CPAP.

Emotional burn out

Depending on what else you’re dealing with, you get stressed about the idea of starting something new.

Overwhelmed

There’s so much going on in life and the road to recovery seems daunting making it hard to see it through with your CPAP treatment.

Bad dreams

Yes, this happens to some people. On many sleep apnea forums, you’ll see post about people having nightmares about CPAP before and after they start.

Denial

Despite what you’ve been told, you’re still not taking your sleep apnea as serious as you should so you’re only halfheartedly using your CPAP machine. Change is hard!

This may seem like a lot to overcome and we wouldn’t be surprised if you’re dealing with more than one issue.  However, even if you feel stuck, there is hope.

Keep in mind you’re not the only one struggling with CPAP given how many people give up.

If CPAP is stressing you out, you do have options, so don’t give up!

What to try if CPAP is stressing you out

Now we get to what you really want to know – how to keep your CPAP setup from stressing you out at bedtime.  We’ve listed some practical things to try below.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • everyone’s situation is different
  • not all of the options may be workable for you
  • you may have to mix and match to fit the issues you’re dealing with

It’s important to keep an open mind, be creative, and stay focused on the prize. Better sleep, better days, and getting your life back.

picture of clock symbolizing give it some time if CPAP is stressing you out

1) Give yourself some time

It’s great if things work right way but often in life there’s an adjustment period for something new.  How long it takes is different for each person.

That’s why it’s important to give yourself some time to ease into CPAP and do whatever you can to keep yourself out of the super stressed zone.

Perhaps, you start out using it a couple nights a week and slowly ramp up.  You can also start out using it a couple hours a night or even a couple hours during the day to get used to it.

illustration of CPAP setup showing parts to check if CPAP is stressing you out

2) Make sure you’re using your CPAP correctly

You’ve likely already checked this but we had to include it on the list.

When you first start CPAP, you have to get used to how the different parts fit together to run correctly.  There’s the machine, hose, mask, and machine settings.

Make sure everything is correctly setup and working the way it’s supposed to. Is the hose and mask making a snug connection?  Is your facemask comfortably fitted so you’re getting the proper airflow?

doctor showing adjustments to face mask that can help if CPAP is stressing you out

3) Try making adjustments to your CPAP setup

It’s not uncommon for new CPAP users to feel uncomfortable with the blowing air, mask, or machine noise.  A sleep technician can work with you to fit your mask more comfortably or find a different mask that works better for you.

Your sleep doctor can help you find more comfortable air pressure settings.  In some cases, they may even suggest a different type of CPAP machine.

If noise is an issue, you can try wearing ear plugs, changing the location of your machine, or white noise.

face ointment in jar

4) Deal with other CPAP issues making things harder

As you adjust to your CPAP setup, there are other things that can creep up and add to the stress.

Some of them have simple fixes:

Dry mouth – try a different mask with a chin strap which can help keep your mouth closed

Out of control hose – get a ring stand or a CPAP pillow to keep it neatly out of the way

Chapping – try a CPAP anti-chap face cream or lip balm

Mask skin irritation – make sure it’s properly fitted (not too tight), regularly cleaned, check whether it’s made with latex instead of silicone

person reading book by fireplace

5) Check your bedtime routine

Make sure you’re doing the right things before bedtime so that you’re relaxed as possible before hooking up to your CPAP.  Avoid anything that’s upsetting or may get you wired up.

Your evening routine should include calming activities that help you wind down from the day.

dark and comfortable bedroom which is what you want if CPAP is stressing you out

6) Check your sleep environment

Your sleep environment can have just as much of an effect on you as your evening routine.  Ideally, you want it cool, dark, and quiet.  Too much noise, if you’re too hot or cold, and nuisance light can add to the stress.

Don’t overlook the importance of having the right bedding.  Your mattress, pillow, and comforter can make a difference in how well you sleep.

couple stretching before bedtime which can help if CPAP is stressing you out

7) Try some relaxation exercises

If CPAP is stressing you out, there’s a lot you can do at bedtime to help you relax. For starters, there’s light stretching, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and guide imagery techniques.

Learn more

earphones illustrating listening to music can help if CPAP is stressing you out

8) Try relaxing music

Music is a great way to de-stress at night.  For best results, experts suggest you listen to something with slow and stable rhythms, low frequency tones, and relaxing melodies.

You can find all sorts of night time relaxation tracks on various websites, YouTube, or in phone apps.  Relaxing nature sounds and music can also be purchased online.

Learn more

house hold fan

9) Try white noise

White noise is what you get when you combine sounds from many frequencies together.  Besides masking background sounds, some people actually find it soothing.

You can try running a household fan, free white noise tracks online, a white noise phone app, or a white noise machine.

Learn more:
What Is White Noise? (National Sleep Foundation)
Some white noise machine options

herbal supplements

10) Try a natural sleep aid

There’s a wide variety of natural supplements that may help you feel more relaxed so you’re not as stressed when you hook up to your CPAP machine.  Many can help reduce anxiety and stress.

Some have been more tested than others and some are beneficial when combined with other ingredients.  So, it’s worth checking with a complementary health specialist (naturopathic physician, herbalist) about what make sense for you.

Learn more:
15 Natural sleeping aids
7 Best supplements that may help reduce stress (Everydayhealth.com)

relaxed couple sleeping great together because CPAP is not stressing them out

11) Make sure your spouse or partner is comfortable

It’s pretty obvious that if a bed mate’s sleep is disturbed by CPAP that’s going to add more stress to the situation.  Remember, they’re going through an adjustment too.

Do whatever you can do to deal with their complaints which is often the machine noise and blowing air.  If needed, one person can sleep in a different room temporarily as you figure things out.

person in meeting showing other sources of stress to deal with if CPAP is stressing you out

12) Deal with other sources of stress

Other sources of stress can pile onto the stress you feel at bedtime.  Whether it’s a job, relationships, or a situation, you need to do whatever you can to keep the stress down.

Start with better self-care, having more balance, and stress management techniques such as exercise.

Learn more

cartoon drawing of sleep coach which is one of the things that may help if CPAP is stressing you out

13) Get help from a sleep coach

A sleep coach can help you identify sleep issues and provide individualized support.  They help you identify habits and patterns, life situations, and other things going on making it harder to adjust to CPAP.

Learn more

14) Get help from a therapist

It’s not uncommon for there to be stuff hiding beneath the surface that make sleep more difficult at night.  If you’re dealing with anxiety or other emotional issues, it can really stack the cards against you when you start CPAP.

Stress and anxiety may cause sleeping problems or make existing problems worse.  Depression can affect sleep behaviors and the quality of sleep.

It’s worth having a chat with a therapist, especially if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Some symptoms of anxiety:
-nervousness or restlessness
-feelings of danger or panic
-rapid breathing or heart rate
-sweating
-difficulty concentrating
-gastrointestinal issues
-insomnia

Some symptoms of depression:
-feeling sad or empty
-loss of interest in activities you enjoy
-fatigue
-feeling hopeless, irritable, anxious, or guilty
-aches and pain
-digestive issues
-difficulty concentrating
-difficulty sleeping

Learn more:
Anxiety (Medlineplus.gov)
Depression (Medlineplus.gov)

man waring a sleep positioning device which is an alternative you can try if CPAP is stressing you out

15) Try a different sleep apnea treatment

If you’ve tried everything you can think of and you’re still having a hard time with CPAP, don’t give up.  CPAP is great when it’s working but it doesn’t work for everyone.

While it’s one of the most effective treatments for sleep apnea, it’s not the only game in town.  Today there are more options than ever before with more on the way – more comfortable air pressure systems, body positioners, and innovative nerve stimulators.

Learn more

Other things that can keep the stress down and help you sleep better

Dealing with sleep apnea is hard enough, so if CPAP is stressing you out it makes sense to do everything you can to make the adjustment easier.  That includes sleep hygiene, the everyday habits that set the stage for quality sleep.

For better sleep hygiene, you should:

  • wake up and go to bed at the same time every day
  • exercise (may want to complete at least an hour before bed due to hormone issues)
  • avoid large meals, alcohol, and stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime
  • maintain a bedtime routine
  • avoid electronics (TVs, tablets, smartphones) near bedtime
  • keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet, & relaxing

Other things that can help include:

Exercise – promotes deep sleep, fights stress and anxiety

Natural daylight – promotes deep sleep, a natural mood booster

Getting a checkup – other health problems can make it harder to get comfortable and sleep

More places for help if CPAP is stressing you out:

Sources:

1. Trends in CPAP adherence over twenty years of data collection: a flattened curve. J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2016 Aug 19;45(1):43.

2. Long-term compliance with continuous positive airway pressure in patients with obstructive sleep apnea. Can Respir J. 2008 Oct;15(7):365-9.

3. Interventions for the Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults: A Health Technology Assessment [Internet]. CADTH Optimal Use Report, No. 6.1b. Kim J, Tran K, Seal K, et al.  Ottawa (ON): Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health; 2017 Mar.

4. “Sleep Disorders”, ADDA website

5. “Depression and Sleep: Understanding the Connection”, Johns Hopkins Medicine website

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