Don’t Leave Your CPAP at Home

Written by Allison Bordewick on

For those with drowsy drivers manning 18-wheel trucks have consistently been in the headlines this year, but a much more common brand of sleep deprivation threatens careers across America. Call it drowsy business travelling, an affliction that hammers otherwise chipper professionals who do fine sleeping in their own beds back home, but suffer once they hit the road. For those with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where breathing pauses during sleep due to a narrowed or partly blocked airway, much of the suffering can be attributed to the lack of proper therapy — particularly the crucial continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)—that is too often left back at home. A familiar complaint for some travelers is that they don’t want to lug a heavy piece of CPAP equipment across the country. Fortunately, says Tracy Nasca, executive director of the American Sleep Apnea Association, manufacturers have responded with extremely portable CPAPs. "There are small travel units on the market,” says Nasca from her Washington, DC-based office. "These are specifically made to resolve those exact issues with business travelers who don’t want to cart around any more equipment than they must.

These lightweight units are a perfect solution for business travelers.” Unlike drowsy driving, a less-than-sharp presentation does not threaten lives, but it could well threaten livelihoods. “Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on the mind and the body,” confirms Nasca. “Why wouldn’t you want to be at the top of your game any day, but especially for business? Disrupting sleep by not using CPAP can cause fatigue and morning headaches.

Having sleep apnea and not treating it while you are away from home is risky. What may appear to be eight hours sleep may actually be only 3 or 4 hours. How can you be at the top of your game with only three or four hours of sleep?” “Your OSA does not go away just because you have a business trip,” adds Debra Mayer, clinical manager of Pulmonary Functions and CPAP Therapy, Minnesota Lung Center and Sleep Institute, Minneapolis-St. Paul. “OSA still leads to heart diseases, stroke, and so many other things. There are very small CPAP machines that fit inside a brief case that business travelers can carry at all times.” Ubiquitous energy drinks and multiple cups of coffee are increasingly coming under the microscope of researchers, and early reports are not good.

As reported in many consumer publications, including Men’sFitness, a review of research from the 2013 American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans, found that “drinking one to three energy drinks” could influence heart rhythm and increase blood pressure. And if severe enough, “these changes could lead to an irregular heartbeat or even sudden cardiac death.”  “And just because you are drinking those [energy drinks] to stay awake, I don’t think you will be completely clear headed,” says Mayer. “Wearing CPAP not only keeps you away, it keeps you vibrant.

You are wide awake, have more energy, you think clearer, your memory is better, and you just all around feel better. When you get a full night’s sleep, you feel like a new person.” “We all know what it feels like to have too much coffee,” agrees Nasca. “If you are wanting to present yourself as a prepared person, you want to put yourself in the best light possible.

You don’t want to appear to be nervous and jittery from too much caffeine. Energy drinks are really just a fix that is going to mask symptoms of sleep deprivation.” Compliance Counts Considering the mountain of research backing up the effectiveness of CPAP, taking a few nights off without is not a good idea, whether at home or travelling for business. OSA degrades the health of individuals, leading to cumulative effects that are nothing short of life threatening—or career threatening in the business realm. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) went so far as to call OSA a “public health threat” with several new studies highlighting the destructive nature of OSA, a “chronic disease that increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and depression."

"Obstructive sleep apnea is destroying the health of millions of Americans, and the problem has only gotten worse over the last two decades," said Timothy Morgenthaler, MD, president of the AASM, and a national spokesperson for the Healthy Sleep Project. “The effective treatment of sleep apnea is one of the keys to success as our nation attempts to reduce health care spending and improve chronic disease management.”

Links to the Links Business travelers who entertain clients on the golf course may be looking for an edge, and those few strokes lost could be linked to sleep apnea. It’s a small sample size, but the New York Times detailed research late last year that equated OSA with poorer golf. Specifically, researchers studied 12 golfers, average age 55, with moderate to severe sleep apnea, comparing them with 12 healthy control subjects.

"To keep things honest, they were required to maintain a handicap with the Golf Handicap and Information Network," writes Nicholas Bakalar. "The golfers with sleep apnea were treated for an average of six months with continuous positive airway pressure therapy...The control group started with an average handicap of 12.2, and by the end—20 rounds of golf later—their average was 12.6. The group treated for sleep apnea moved from an average 12.4 at the start to a 11.0 at the end, a small but significant improvement.” Bakalar writes that golf seems to require precisely the skills that treatment for sleep apnea improves. "We know that the cognitive parameters—vigilance, attention span, memory—people with sleep apnea do poorly on these tests and improve with treatment,” said the lead author, Dr. Marc L. Benton, medical director of the Sleepwell Center of New Jersey, in the NY Times. “For years I’ve been telling people who play golf that golf is work: memory, decision making, anger management, calculation, hand-eye coordination. It’s very cognitive."

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