CPAP: Breathing for you while you sleep

CPAP means Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. We believe that many people die in their sleep because of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) but the family thinks they died in their sleep of a heart attack.

If someone has sleep apnea, and many do and don’t know it, they suffer from very irregular breathing during sleep. This can and does cause death in sleep.

The trouble is most people who have sleep apnea don’t know it. They just are not aware that they have a condition that is dangerous and sometimes fatal.

What To Do?

If you suspect irregular sleep patterns, get an overnight appointment with a sleep lab and make arrangements to go there overnight to sleep while the lab technicians monitor you. They can determine right away if you have sleep apnea. It’s a problem that affects both men and women.

If you do have sleep apnea, the only good and immediate solution is to get a prescription for a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. Medicare pays for it if you use the machine regularly for sleep therapy. It can save your life while giving much needed rest.

Some people get the CPAP machine and then won’t use it. In this case you pay for it. Medicare won’t pay. Your sleep lab doctor keeps records of the usage and reports to Medicare.

Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea but it is not always an indicator. Waking up tired or waking numerous times during the night can also be a sign of sleep apnea.

People with sleep apnea can actually stop breathing up to 400 times throughout the night. These interruptions last 10 to 30 seconds and are often followed by a snort when breathing resumes. This seriously breaks your sleep cycle and leaves you tired the next day. Get help: Sleep apnea is very serious!

Do You Have High Blood Pressure Or Sleep Apnea?

I suspect that many of the millions of people who are faithfully taking high blood pressure medicine don’t really have high blood pressure. They may have instead sleep apnea.

In addition to high blood pressure, sleep apnea can lead to a host of health problems including acid reflux, frequent nighttime urination, memory loss, stroke, depression, diabetes or even heart attack.

I used to wake up with very high blood pressure and had to hurriedly take blood pressure medicine. One day a cardiologist suggested that I be tested for sleep apnea.

Well, the lights came on. I was tested at the sleep lab and found for sure that I had OSA. I got the CPAP machine and found that I did not awaken with high blood pressure as long as I used the machine by wearing my mask each night. I rested much better, four to five hours at a time, and didn’t wake up for frequent nighttime urination.

Follow-up reading suggested that a chin strap worn while sleeping would stop the mouth from falling open, stop the snoring and possibly take the place of the CPAP machine. The chin strap prevents the jaw, throat and tongue muscles from relaxing by holding the mouth closed while sleeping, therefore there is no obstruction of the airway passage.

I have tried a chin strap while napping and found it very helpful. However I am not quite ready to exchange my CPAP machine for a chin strap. The CPAP machine provides forced air at the nose. I am at least suspicious that the simple chin strap may be a low cost substitute for the CPAP machine.

The whole idea here is that if you can stop the snoring by holding your mouth shut with a chin strap, you can stop or alleviate OSA. I am not prepared to tell you this is true, but I suspect it.

A recent case study published by Eastern Virginia Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine concludes that wearing a simple chin strap while you sleep can be an effective treatment for OSA.

Snoring reduction may help increase oxygen levels, improve REM (deep) sleep, diminish daytime fatigue and lower blood pressure.

According to, sleep apnea can cause or contribute to:

  • High blood pressure. The frequent nighttime wakings cause hormonal systems to go into overdrive and results in high blood pressure levels at night. Low blood-oxygen levels, caused by the cutoff of oxygen, may also contribute to hypertension in people with sleep apnea.
  • Heart disease. People with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to suffer heart attacks and die in the middle of the night. The causes may be low oxygen or the stress of waking up often during sleep. Stroke and atrial fibrillation — a problem with the rhythm of the heartbeat — are also associated with obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Type 2 diabetes. Sleep apnea is very common among people with type 2 diabetes; up to 80 percent of diabetics have some obstructive sleep apnea. Obesity is a common risk factor for both disorders. Although studies haven’t shown a clear link between sleep apnea alone and type 2 diabetes, sleep deprivation can cause insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.
  • Weight gain. Adding weight increases your risk of sleep apnea; up to two-thirds of people with sleep apnea are severely overweight. Obstructive sleep apnea can often be cured if you lose enough weight, but that can be tough to do. Being overweight causes fatty deposits in the neck that block breathing at night. In turn, sleep apnea impairs the body’s endocrine systems, causing the release of the hormone ghrelin. That makes you crave carbohydrates and sweets. Also, people with sleep apnea who are tired and sleepy all the time may have lower metabolism and that can contribute to weight gain.
  • Adult asthma. Although the link to obstructive sleep apnea is not proven, people who are treated for sleep apnea may find they have fewer asthma attacks.
  • GERD. There’s no proof that sleep apnea causes acid reflux, but many people with sleep apnea complain of acid reflux.
  • Car accidents. Daytime grogginess can put people with sleep apnea at increased risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. People with sleep apnea are up to five times more likely than normal sleepers to have traffic accidents.
Bob Livingston

By Bob Livingston

Bob Livingston has been writing most of his adult life on matters of health, nutritional supplements, natural alternatives and social importance.