Disturbing Video Drastically Increases CPAP Compliance


The list of things we’re afraid of because of movies and television is endless: quicksand, staircases, flickering TVs, attics, gangs that have black belts in karate, birds, and even your own neighbors. The list goes on and on. But what if there was a way to use the power of moving images to make us fear things that could actually harm us, like obstructive sleep apnea? In a new pilot study, researchers at National Jewish Health in Denver found out that by showing videos of themselves suffering from sleep apnea, patients were much more likely to commit to CPAP.

One of those patients is John Brugger – a father of five from Commerce City, Colorado. Obstructive sleep apnea caused him to toss and turn at night. It was also starting to affect his waking life. Not only did he struggle to breathe at night, but the condition also left him feeling tired and fatigued the next morning. Sleep apnea was also greatly increasing his risk for a heart attack, stroke or even a vehicular collision. After suffering enough, he visited a doctor who recommended CPAP therapy. But Brugger couldn’t stand how uncomfortable the mask was, so he stopped treatment.

According to statistics, about half of people will stop using CPAP after one or two weeks. It’s a big mistake that could have life altering – or even life ending – consequences. But after watching a shocking, graphic and disturbing video of himself sleeping, John Brugger now can’t sleep without CPAP.  “I won’t even take a nap without it,” he said. The video featured Brugger sleeping, but also going through some of the more common apneatic signs: tossing and turning, gasping for air and flailing, almost like an invisible specter was attacking him and trying to kill him in his sleep.

The response was exactly what Mark Aloia, PhD – leader of the study – was looking for. Brugger said that watching the video was a “powerful moment” in his life and that it made him cry. Essentially, he saw himself literally drowning in his sleep. What would you do if you saw yourself drowning? Doctor Aloia mentions that sleep apnea is essentially invisible – it’s not something you experience in the moment because you are unconscious. However, by showing patients a video of themselves suffering, it instilled a sense of urgency that was very real – graphically and grippingly real – like watching a CCTV feed of someone trying to murder you in an alley.

In the first phase of the study, Aloia and researchers showed patients video of other people suffering from sleep apnea. Yet, this didn’t create the same sense of urgency – mainly because patients didn’t feel like their suffering was the same or as bad. Basically, they were removed from it, because it was happening to someone else. Yet, when the cameras were pointed in the other direction, the results were drastically different. Like behavioral conditioning, researchers saw in the patients an increase of CPAP compliance of more than two hours a night. After three months, all patients were still using CPAP.

The results of the study were so powerful that Aloia and his researchers received a grant to test the method on 300 more patients. He will also follow their progress over the course of a year. For the pilot patients, many of them became very emotional in the study, because they saw first hand the ravages of obstructive sleep apnea. It just goes to show you that the real boogieman isn’t under the bed or in your TV – it’s inside of you. For this reason, it is vitally imperative that you stay committed to CPAP therapy. If you are having trouble staying compliant, you may want to videotape yourself sleeping and see for yourself the specter that is truly haunting you.

Source: “After watching disturbing video, CPAP usage soars.” Medical X-Press. September 25, 2014.