Benefits of treating sleep apnoea – Improving health and wellbeing
August 23rd 2023
Has your doctor said you need to use CPAP machine to treat sleep apnoea? It might have come as a bit of a shock, and it’s natural to feel wary about introducing unfamiliar equipment and processes into your life – and your bedroom! One of best ways to prepare yourself is to focus on how these changes will improve your life, thanks to the benefits of CPAP therapy.
The same applies if you’ve been receiving treatment for a while and need motivation to keep going. Reminding yourself of the benefits of CPAP therapy – and your life before and after a CPAP machine – is also going to be a positive, so let’s do that today!
But first, here’s a quick recap of what CPAP therapy is and what it does…
What is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine used for?
A CPAP machine is used to treat a breathing disorder called sleep apnoea (also spelt sleep apnea). Put simply, sleep apnoea is when you stop breathing for short episodes during sleep – while this sounds alarming, you might not even realise it’s happening (although if you have a bed partner they probably will!). What you will notice however are the symptoms of sleep apnoea – which can range from loud snoring, daytime sleepiness and needing to go for a wee a lot at night1, to weight gain2 and memory loss1.
There are several types of sleep apnoea, and the severity of sleep aponea can vary, but the most common is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA), which this article concentrates on. As you relax into sleep, so do the muscles in your body – including those in the airways that supply oxygen to your lungs. If these muscles become too relaxed, they can end up blocking your airway, stopping you from breathing. If your breathing stops for 10 seconds or more it’s called an apnoea. When an apnoea occurs you’ll eventually wake briefly to gasp for air then go back to sleep3. This wake-and-sleep cycle can repeat several times a night, so you can see why it can make you feel tired the next day!
How does a CPAP machine work?
If you’ve done your research on this topic, you may have seen the term PAP therapy as well as CPAP therapy. The difference between the two is that PAP stands for positive air pressure and covers a range of devices used to treat different types of sleep apnoea. If you use a PAP machine you’ll need to sleep wearing a mask – the machine will deliver a pressurised flow of air to your mask, which will help keep your airways open as you sleep. A CPAP machine is the type of PAP device most commonly used to treat OSA. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, because it delivers a steady, continuous stream of pressurised air.
OK, so now that’s clear, here’s how using a CPAP machine benefits you in a variety of ways…
The benefits of treating sleep apnoea on how you feel
The benefits of CPAP therapy are closely related to the benefits of sleep. Getting good sleep has a huge effect on how we feel – physically and emotionally – with the most obvious being waking up refreshed and raring to go. If your sleep cycle is being interrupted by sleep apnoea it’s likely you haven’t felt that way in a while. The good news is that people who use therapy for at least four hours per night4 report improvements to their quality of life4, such as the ones outlined below.
Once you begin CPAP therapy and have fewer apnoeas during the night, this should lead to a more satisfying sleep cycle. Ultimately this should mean you start to feel less tired during the day – in fact, many CPAP users find they have much more energy than they used to before therapy.
Few of us feel particularly cheery in the morning if we’ve had difficulty sleeping – and if you’re not sleeping well every night, you’ll probably be pretty grumpy! One of the consequences of sleep apnoea can be low mood, so when the condition is treated with CPAP therapy this should start to improve. What’s more, if you have depression as well as sleep apnoea, receiving CPAP therapy has the additional benefit of improving depressive symptoms6.
A clearer mind6
If lack of quality sleep is leaving you with a muddled mind as you try to perform everyday tasks, you’ll be pleased to learn that another CPAP benefit is that it can improve cognitive function – in other words your mental abilities such as thinking, memory, learning and problem-solving.
Benefits of treating sleep apnoea for your health
Some of the most impressive CPAP benefits may not be immediately obvious because they relate to your overall health and wellbeing.
Quality sleep has a bigger role than simply making you feel less tired – it also helps your body and mind recover after a long day by boosting your immune system, healing damaged cells and recharging your heart and cardiovascular system. So if lack of sleep can have a negative impact on health, it stands to reason that improving sleep via CPAP therapy can have a positive effect…
In fact, regular use of PAP therapy for sleep apnoea may have even greater benefits: recent analysis of groups of OSA patients have shown all-cause mortality was reduced in those who stuck to their PAP therapy7, plus a negative dose–response relationship between PAP adherence and mortality and cardiovascular events (in other words, greater compliance leads to a reduced risk of these events)8.
Fewer risks and symptoms
If you start and – crucially – keep up with CPAP therapy for sleep apnoea then you may:
- reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 64% (compared to people who receive no treatment)
- have lower day and night-time blood pressure (generally speaking, the lower your blood pressure, the lower your risk of heart disease and stroke9)
Meanwhile research has shown that people who have sleep apnoea and don’t get any treatment are at greater risk of high blood pressure10, heart disease and stroke11-13, Type 2 diabetes14 and hypertension15.
Benefits of sleep apnoea treatment for the wider healthcare system
If patients are successfully treating their sleep apnoea with CPAP therapy and lowering their risk of certain medical conditions, could this then have positive implications for the healthcare system as a whole? Here at ResMed we wanted to explore this notion, so commissioned a US study to test the idea that increasing the amount of time someone spent receiving PAP therapy could lead to better outcomes for hospitals and healthcare providers.
The results of the research showed that it did indeed reduce hospitalisations and emergency visits:
- With every additional hour of night PAP use up to seven hours, hospitalisations declined by as much as 9.9%16
- Visits to the emergency room also declined by as much a 6.6% over the two years of the study too16
So not only does CPAP therapy benefit you, it can also have advantages for hard-pressed hospitals and healthcare providers.16
Some claims about CPAP benefits that may surprise you!
There are also possible advantages of CPAP therapy that may come as a surprise, as they’re not directly related to quality of sleep or health – but they do make sense if you think about them!
Lower risk of traffic accidents
It’s been found that people with untreated sleep apnoea are up to two-and-a-half times more likely to have traffic accidents than those who sleep normally.17 However, when sleep apnoea is treated with effective CPAP therapy the risk is reduced17,18, which may be down to that CPAP benefit of improved cognitive function helping you feel more alert. Plus if you feel more rested, you’re less likely to struggle to stay awake when driving.
A healthier appearance
The next time someone talks about getting some beauty sleep, don’t laugh – there may be some truth in the expression! Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System19 monitored the benefits of sleep apnoea treatment on people’s bodies and appearance, with some interesting results…
The team used computer-aided mapping techniques to capture images of the faces of 20 ‘middle-aged’ patients before starting CPAP therapy and then again a few months after. The computer analysis was verified by independent researchers, who, in nearly two-thirds of cases, confirmed that post-treatment the CPAP users “looked more alert, more youthful and more attractive”.
While the findings are yet to be confirmed by larger studies, you may find the prospect of a fresher face following therapy rather appealing!
How long will it take me to feel these CPAP therapy benefits?
Now you’ve seen the bigger benefit picture you probably feel keen to get on board (or back on board) with CPAP therapy.
Not all cases of sleep apnoea are the same. The time it takes for the benefits of using a CPAP device to become apparent vary from person to person – and, as we’ve seen, also depend on how consistent you are with your therapy. Some people report feeling better and less tired after just one night, while others may take a little longer. And of course you won’t necessarily be able to immediately feel or see some of the health benefits, like reduced risk of stroke, for example.
How do I know therapy is working?
Hopefully you will be feeling a lot better than before you started! But if you’ve been on therapy a while and aren’t sure if it’s still making a positive difference, it is possible to track your therapy. This will help you find out if you need to make any adjustments – for example to your mask – and your doctor or healthcare provider will also monitor your progress to see if your needs have evolved over time. They can then change your device settings (or even the device itself) or treatment plan in another way if necessary.
How can I stick to my therapy to enjoy the benefits?
To enjoy the many benefits of CPAP therapy to the max, you need to use your device every night, preferably for as many hours as possible20. This was apparent in the PAP study we referenced earlier: when patients used their PAP device for two to three hours each night they still experienced benefits16 – but these benefits increased with each additional hour they used the device, up to seven hours16 – so the more you put into your therapy, the more you’re likely to get out of it! Hopefully tracking your therapy, along with thinking about the benefits explained in this article, will help you to do this. Our ebook Sticking with CPAP therapy also has lots of tips and advice to help, wherever you are on your CPAP journey. Good luck!