I first ran into a CPAP machine when I was in the military; a colleague of mine from the Air Force had one (this was about 1997). He had an oxygen tank, and yes, it sounded a lot like Darth Vader. Then I got out of the military, stopped running, and my thyroid decided to up and die. I gained nearly 60 pounds in two years, and my father has always snored like he’s having trouble breathing. Unsurprisingly, I went from being a snorer to full-blown sleep apnea.
It was horrible, especially since I really didn’t know it was happening. I was in bed for six to eight hours every night, but woke up with headaches. I nodded off at work, at church, in school. Naps were worse than useless – I didn’t feel any better, and often felt worse. I denied that I had sleep apnea… until I heard a recording of me while asleep. I’d heard sounds like that – in the ICU as patients struggled for breath.
I had over 60 apnea events an hour. I stopped breathing more than once a minute while “sleeping”. As a result, I was never getting into the deeper stages of sleep. I was never getting any rest.
I remembered my colleague’s Darth Vader getup from years earlier, and didn’t know how I’d be able to sleep with that much racket. I slept on my stomach, and with many mask styles you have to lie on your back. Still, I went back to the sleep center, and they let me take a twenty minute nap with a CPAP machine.
That twenty minutes was more restful than any night of “sleep” I had in years.
The machines these days are not particularly loud.  They’re smaller, too (the one pictured is not mine, but similar). They’re definitely better – and quieter – than a snoring partner. In fact, many people compare the sound to that of a wave machine. So much so, that once you get used to the sound it’s difficult to sleep without it when your significant other is away for whatever reason.
So I’ve made a recording. If you have a SO who uses a CPAP and you’re not with them and have trouble sleeping, feel free to use this. If you’re just curious what a CPAP might sound like, take a listen. It’s a 35 minute segment (somewhat edited), so it’s long enough for the former purpose. A few quick notes about the recording, though:
- It’s a 16 meg MP3. Dialup users, beware.
- This is amplified. Normal operation is quiet enough that it was hard to hear and record. I ended up having to literally strap the mike to the mask.
- This is using the loudest mask I have. When I tried recording with my normal mask, I could barely hear it in the recording – but I could hear my cat a lot.
- The hose and mask I had to use for this recording are slightly leaky; also I’ve gained weight again, so my settings probably need tweaked. You might hear a soft snore here and there, and that’s why. Normally there is no snoring at all, but this works well for the purpose.
If you’ve been curious, or are away from someone who uses a CPAP, feel free to use this recording. It’s under a Creative Commons license (like everything else on this blog), so you can share it as long as you give attributation back to me (preferably using my name and a linkback). You can download it here.
 When the seal on the mask breaks, or if you don’t have it connected to anything, yes, then it can be loud. But that’s not normal operation.