By Madeline Vann for Next Avenue
[caption id="attachment_6010" align="alignnone" width="625"] Credit: Adobe Stock - Sleeping with a CPAP machine can improve how both you and your partner sleep.[/caption]
If your spouse has sleep apnea, his or her CPAP machine for it could save your sleep, health, and marriage. But first you need to find effective ways to help and support your husband or wife.
Whatever you do, don’t suggest that the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine makes your spouse less desirable, advises sleep medicine expert Dr. Patricia Patterson, medical director of the UAB Sleep-Wake Disorders Center in Birmingham, Ala. You’ll have to find a delicate balance between helping, encouraging and focusing on the benefits rather than nagging or offering a cold shoulder.
“The most frequent negative comment I have heard is, ‘My partner says I look like Darth Vader,’” Patterson says. That’s not exactly supportive pillow talk.
A CPAP machine is often recommended for people who have breathing-related sleep disturbance, such as obstructive sleep apnea. The machine pushes a steady stream of air into the nose through a mask the user wears all night. CPAP machines improve sleep and have been shown to help people lose weight and reduce high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Those are real and significant benefits. The National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research has estimated that obstructive sleep apnea may cause 38,000 cardiovascular deaths each year.
What happens during obstructive sleep apnea is that the person actually stops breathing. Dr. Paul G. Matthew of Harvard Medical School called its effects on the brain “repeated moments of suffocating.”
CPAP use also improves life during the day — which was what Rich Harris, 58, of Great Mills, Md., was seeking. The retired U.S. Navy member knew his snore-filled nights weren’t just worrying his sleep-deprived wife, they resulted in his daytime sleepiness that made it hard to drive safely or focus on his work.
“It’s common that a patient will come into [our] clinic because their spouse or partner is worried about hearing them stop breathing or is bothered by the snoring,” says clinical psychologist Kelly Baron, at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
The quality of your marital relationship can impact CPAP success. In return, a CPAP machine could improve your marriage, says Baron.
“We found that men who were in marriages with lower conflict had higher use of their CPAPs,” she said. “In addition, couples’ relationship conflict decreased over the three months we tracked them. This tells us not only do supportive relationships matter, but people feel better about their relationships when they are getting better sleep.”
Yet despite the CPAP’s proven benefits, one in three users’ CPAP machines will be gathering dust in a corner, unused, within a decade, according to the American Association of Sleep Technologists.
“The couples that collaborate together have the best outcomes with CPAP use,” according to sleep disorders researcher Faith Luyster, assistant professor of health and community systems at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing in Pennsylvania.
Try these nine steps to support your spouse:
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