Case Study: CPAP Treatment - David
David’s PTSD symptoms after a helicopter crash were affecting every moment of his life until he came across CPAP therapy for Sleep Apnoea. Here, he shares his story about his life after finding the CPAP therapy which he says is “UNBELIEVABLE! I am a much happier person and no longer tired during the day. I feel like a better person for the therapy.”
“In 1982 I suffered life threatening injuries from a helicopter crash in the Forces. I left the Forces in 1988 and it wasn’t until 1992 that I visited my GP asking for help and she suggested that I might benefit from seeing a psychologist.
I just sat in a room with the psychologist 1-on-1 and she just waited until I was ready to talk about my issues. It was after several weeks of these sessions that I started talking of my problems and I was diagnosed with PTSD.
During the day, my life was one of being in a constant state of high anxiety and fear, I was always on edge, thinking that everybody outside of the house was looking at me. I would have flashbacks of the crash day and night and I was in constant fear of my life. My anger moments was up and down sometimes the slightest thing setting me off it was unfair for my family.
Sleeping was a constant nightmare. I would be anxious about falling asleep as I was fearful that there was somebody going to come into the bedroom to try and kill me or coming into the house after my family.
I would have flash backs of the crash together with horrendous horrid vivid dreams, I would wake up sweating my heart racing and pounding sometimes screaming out aloud I would get up as I was so scared.
I had dreams of walking or running somewhere but my legs stopped working and I couldn’t move and I would scream out in fear that I had lots my legs.
I would wake up with terrible painful headaches choking and unable to breath I saw my GP about this (after investigation I was diagnosed with cluster headaches).
Due to the poor nights sleep I use to fall asleep during the day and early evenings trying to catch up on lost sleep.
I had always had sleeping problems, nightmares etc and in 2018 I started looking into sleeping problems and in particular why I was waking up choking etc and I came across sleep apnoea. I made an appointment to see the GP who then referred me to a specialist.
As my PTSD makes me very anxious when attending any hospital appointment my wife joined me. During the consultation the Doctor stated that I do have a sleeping problem however, I did not fit the standard profile of an Obstructive Sleep Apnoea sufferer but there might be something else causing it. It was at this point that my wife informed him that I suffer with PTSD, and could this be causing it. A light bulb moment as he then asked about my PTSD and sleeping problems.. It was at this point I shared my fears of sleeping, nightmares, headaches etc. The Doctor explained that there is an association between anxiety brought on by PTSD and Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.
It is also known that anxiety is a co-morbidity (side effect) of PTSD. The Doctor explained what happens during the sleep cycle and why I was having these awful dreams which are brought on by my anxiety, he called it “Nightmare Syndrome” together with the sweating and headaches. He also explained that using a CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure) machine for therapy when sleeping could help me. He asked me to stay overnight for a polysomnography to identify what was actually happen during my sleep. I shared with him my fear of hospitals since my accident but he assured me that I could leave at any time so I put my trust in him.
A polysomnography is a harmless and painless overnight test in the hospital, you’re hooked up to equipment with electrodes on the head that monitors your heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep. Is it uncomfortable not really, somebody wanted to help me and that was more important.
A few days later I was fitted and tested using a CPAP machine to ensure I was happy using it before going home.
CPAP is a simple machine that blows normal air through a mask that you wear to sleep with. You don’t use any sort of Oxygen supply the machine just sucks in the normal air we breathe. When you’re asleep, the machine increases the air pressure to hold your airway open and sends the air into your upper airway to stop it collapsing or narrowing, you don’t feel a thing it all happens whilst you are asleep.
Since starting to use the CPAP machine, I can say it is overwhelming and has changed my day-to-day well-being. I get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. The nightmares have reduced by 95%. I don’t fall asleep during the day and I am no longer tired. I have more energy and able to concentrate on tasks better. The frequency of flashbacks have reduced. When sleeping my anxiety levels are much lower which has brought down all of my heightened fears and I wake up much happier. I am a much happier person and it gives me a better quality of life.
My treatment was through the NHS, and although the first session was uncomfortable I can say WOW it was life changing and still is. I look forward to going to bed now. I had to learn to sleep in a different position (on my back) rather than on my side but after several days I got used to it.
Life after finding the CPAP therapy is UNBELIEVABLE! I am a much happier person and no longer tired during the day. I feel like a better person for the therapy.
My night time anxiety, nightmares, headaches, sweats etc are being suppressed due to the CPAP therapy. However, if the mask does slip or I don’t put it on correctly then the nightmares start again.
I now want to share this success storey and the benefits using a CPAP machine it has given me and how it has improved my sleeping issues. I have suffered for 40 years with PTSD and not getting a good nights sleep every night and I know how hard it is to ask for help.But if you are struggling at night with breathing, nightmares, restless legs, waking with headaches, heart pounding, flashbacks constantly tired during the day, ask your GP to be screened for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea and tell them of your sleep problems.
The questionnaire that they give you to complete is for a certain profile of sleep sufferers and does not take into account PTSD problems so push the GP on getting you properly assessed.
Please get yourself off to see your GP – it might be a life changer for you! It was for me.”
Find out more about Sleep Apnoea, CPAP machines and how they can help PTSD and C-PTSD symptoms here.
Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.
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It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
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