While lifestyle changes can make a difference, especially for moderate sleep apnea, the gold standard treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. CPAP devices essentially work by blowing air into the back of the throat to keep the airways open. They sit by the side of the bed and are attached to a mask worn while sleeping. When used consistently, CPAP can alleviate sleep apnea symptoms.
Wearing a pressurized mask isn’t always comfortable. “Forty percent of people don’t tolerate it well at all,” Somers says. But using a CPAP consistently has real benefits. In addition to decreasing daytime sleepiness and boosting productivity and mood, some people who use the device for more than 4 hours a night can lower high blood pressure.
And there are options designed to make CPAP less challenging. While some masks fully cover the nose and mouth, others simply rest under the nostrils. Another option is an autoCPAP, or APAP, which modulates the intensity of airflow in the night based on changes in your breathing.
Still, even a best-case CPAP experience takes some getting used to, Pien says, often at least a month. The first few nights are unlikely to go well, but keeping at it—plus practicing using the machine during the day—can help.