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Learning Something New: The Hat Trick for CPAP

By Michael Breus, PhD, ABSMApril 12, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

If you’re one of the 18 million Americans who suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), you know that one of the most helpful forms of treatment is the CPAP machine. People with OSA stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, often for a minute or longer, and as many as hundreds of times during a single night. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. Basically, CPAP works like a vacuum cleaner in reverse by pushing air down a person’s throat while they are sleeping to help keep their airway open, so breathing is possible.

Left untreated, sufferers of sleep apnea suffer from poor quality sleep and chronic sleep deprivation, leading to health issues that can be life-threatening: weight gain, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems. The benefits of CPAP use are pretty clear.

It’s critical to regularly use a CPAP machine if you have OSA, but that’s easier said than done for many people. I know from my patients that the trouble many people have with the CPAP is getting a mask that feels comfortable. In fact, a guest editorial by a doctor in Sleep Review Magazine not only describes this problem, it offers an awesome solution — but it might not be what you’d expect. Dr. Edward Michaelson suggests using an ordinary baseball cap as a way to make your CPAP machine more comfortable.

He calls his innovation a ‘hat-trick’ because there are three ways in which it is helpful (just like a person who scores three consecutive goals in hockey is said to have accomplished a ‘hat trick’):

  • The baseball cap helps both the top and back straps of the CPAP mask stay on, particularly for people who are bald.
  • The hat adds space, helping to reduce facial strap marks.
  • The bill of the cap can help “lock” the position of the CPAP mask-tubing, making the whole system more secure and lessening the likelihood of leaks AND if the cap is worn backwards, it will keep people off of their back, the worst sleeping position for those with sleep apnea.

All of this is good news for people who find that their CPAP masks often fall off. In fact, Dr. Michaelson writes that he first looked into this alternate use of a baseball hat because his goatee made most CPAP masks difficult to wear — talk about innovative medicine! I saw this editorial and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to blog about something that made me think about new ways to address old problems — it’s so simple (and sort of funny).

This ‘hat-trick’ sounds like a real score.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™
www.thesleepdoctor.com

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