Snoring could not be more unsexy, yet those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder where breathing stops intermittently during sleep, might find the cure more off-putting than the affliction.
The optimal treatment for people who struggle to breathe during sleep is CPAP therapy. This entails a machine that produces a steady stream of pressurized air during slumber, and the patient needs to wear a mask attached to the tubing and the bedside machine. There are more comfortable sleeping outfits than this, but it is highly effective.
The National Sleep Foundation asserts that a significant portion of Americans, between 5 and 20 percent, have sleep apnea. Raj Dasgupta, a sleep specialist from the University of Southern California, clarifies that "this issue affects all types of people, not just fat, aging white men." He credits advancements in diagnostic tech for this shift in perception, as it no longer requires patients to be wired up like Frankenstein's monster for a sleep study.
It's a positive development that individuals have access to treatment, which is essential. Dasgupta adds that, in addition to CPAP, certain patients may gain advantages from dental apparatus and surgical procedures based on their circumstances.
Andrew Wellman, the director of the Sleep Disordered Breathing Lab at Brigham and Women's Hospital, points out that if left untreated, sleep apnea can be a factor in heart attacks, strokes, and neurocognitive damage (due to low oxygen levels in the brain), as well as metabolic issues and an increased risk of diabetes. Additionally, the daytime sleepiness caused by this disorder can lead to motor vehicle crashes and poor job performance. According to Dasgupta, with more proactive diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea, CPAP therapy is becoming increasingly more visible, thus offering a better night's sleep to many Americans. Wellman estimates that while around 30 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, only about 6 million are using CPAP therapy.
Patients, particularly those unfamiliar with CPAP, may struggle to discuss it in their romantic relationships. Dasgupta suggests bringing it up at an appropriate time and using humor to lighten the conversation, noting the humorous Bane-esque look of the CPAP mask.
He emphasizes that CPAP is not limited to health benefits but also can enhance one's sex life. "It will make you more alert throughout the day, leading to more opportunities for dates, movie nights, and Netflix binges," he adds. Men, specifically, may find CPAP can help with erectile dysfunction. "Inform your partner that donning the CPAP mask does not signify a lack of desire for intimacy; it can always be removed."
According to Paul Hokemeyer, a family therapist based in New York City, the best way to deal with any feelings of shame or awkwardness is to take control of the situation and be completely honest. He explains, "The machine isn't an extra luxury; it's a medical necessity. So don't consider it a sign of frailty; take charge and be honest with your partner."
Gaelynn Lea, a musician, was initially hesitant to use her CPAP machine around her now-husband. Eventually, she realized that if they truly loved her, they wouldn't judge her. Experienced CPAP users echo this sentiment, affirming that it is not worth sacrificing one's ability to breathe during the night due to fear of judgment when the relationship gets serious.
At 21 years of age, she already felt like people perceived her as "too young" for CPAP therapy. As sleep and intimacy were closely linked in her mind, bringing out this piece of equipment at the start of a new relationship made her uneasy. Even though she was accustomed to standing out due to her disability, Gaelynn's osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as "brittle bone disease," felt like too much of an adjustment to make.
In 2015, Larry McDonnell, a 36-year-old from Charleston, WV, with diastrophic dwarfism and severe apnea due to scoliosis, acquired a bi-pap machine. Having been married for nine years, the engine had a remarkable impact on his life. According to McDonnell, it was "like he was a teenager again" after using it. Grabbing a good night's rest drastically upgraded his sex life and his bond with his children. Before the machine, he had been withdrawn, agitated, and unfocused due to many sleepless nights.
McDonnell was told that his sleep apnea had become so bad that it could have caused his death, but he was able to save himself by using a bi-pap. He now advocates for CPAP and bi-pap users and encourages people to be candid about their condition with potential partners. He believes that in many cases, this could lead to a shared understanding or may even be the start of a conversation that helps the other person realize they may have similar problems and should get tested.
For those who occasionally fly, go on spontaneous trips, or partake in one-night stands, CPAP use requires some forethought. Some frequent travelers even buy a travel CPAP machine, making their getaways more restful. These machines are small enough to fit in a handbag or backpack and are generally quite loud compared to the larger bedside units.
Refrain from being deterred from CPAP if you consider it a large, noisy machine. Manufacturers make lightweight CPAPs with low decibel noise levels, and there are many different styles of masks and tubing, such as the in-line mufflers that reduce the sound. New CPAPers can find the best equipment for them. Hokemeyer recommends that if your partner uses CPAP, you should express your support and gladness that they have found a way to get a good night's sleep.
At times, CPAP even fosters a sweet bond. According to Dasgupta, some couples actually visit him together. It's a charming sight--they keep tabs on each other, such as pointing out if one didn't use it the night before. To complete the perfect fairytale, one or both partners may also end up using it.
Remember, in the long run, your partner's sleep apnea therapy success is not only beneficial to their health & well-being but yours as well! Give it time, and the therapy will be worth it for you both.
By Hillary Flores, February 13, 2023, Last updated: February 14, 2023
- Advice for Dating With Sleep Apnea (sleep-disorders.net)
- Dating with Sleep Apnea Doesn’t Need To Be Hard (whywesnore.com)
- CPAP and the single guy: Dating with sleep apnea (resmed.com.au)
- How to Introduce Your CPAP Machine Into a Relationship (vice.com)
- CPAP - CPAP | NHLBI, NIH
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments | Sleep Foundation
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