July 21, 2024

Sleep Expert Shows Sleep Apnea Patients Videos of Themselves to Encourage CPAP Use

2 min read
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A Colorado man is breathing easier at night after seeing a video of himself sleeping convinced him to get a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.John Brugger, from Commerce City, CO, suffers from sleep apnea, a disorder that causes snoring, breathing difficulty, and sleep deprivation in over 20 million Americans. It also raises the risk of car accidents, strokes and heart attacks.

Brugger’s doctor suggested a CPAP machine, which delivers air through a face mask to keep airways open at night, but like more than half of people who try these machines, Brugger quickly stopped using it.

“I didn’t like it, honestly,” Brugger told MedicalXPress.com. “It was bulky and I had a hard time getting to sleep with it on my face.”

That’s where Mark Aloia, PhD. came in. Aloia is a sleep expert from Denver’s National Jewish Health respiratory hospital, and he had a brilliant idea to increase CPAP use. As part of a pilot study, Aloia recorded patients in their sleep and played the video for them.

Brugger watched himself writhe and struggle for air in his own disturbing video, and had a dramatic change of heart about his CPAP machine, saying “Now I can’t go to sleep without it. I won’t even take a nap without it.” Most other patients were just as affected by their videos.

This reaction was Aloia’s goal. “Sleep apnea is one of those disorders you never really notice in yourself,” he told MedicalXPress.com. “I mean, you’re asleep, you’re consciously not aware of what’s happening to you.”

“It made me cry watching it,” Brugger said, “and to see myself basically drowning in my sleep made me very determined to fix that.”

Earlier incarnations of the study used videos of other people, but it didn’t have the same effect. People still assumed that the videos didn’t depict their own sleeping habits. “We somehow had to find a way to convince these patients of the urgency of their condition,” said Aloia.

Without treatment, sleep apnea can lead to several serious medical conditions, including cancer, depression, diabetes and heart disease. Sleep deprivation has also been shown to age skin prematurely in women and lead to a condition known as “sleep drunkenness,” which causes uncharacteristic and sometimes violent behavior when a person is woken abruptly. Lack of sleep can increase the risk of a patient falling asleep at the wheel and creating a car accident.

The pilot study was so successful that Aloia’s team will expand it, using a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

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