Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How I deal with Sleep Apnea and Cycling, Backpacking, and Sailing

As an active backpacker, cyclist and sailor, I refused to let my need for a CPAP machine stop me from doing things I love. So when I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I viewed the need for the machine with dismay. Since I exhibit none of the typical symptoms of someone with Sleep Apnea (I sleep well and easily, I'm alert when I wake), my friends turn out to be very happy to help carry the CPAP machine so they don't have to hear me snore! For cycling, the Puritan Bennett is a nice lightweight (1.5 pounds, with a light power supply that's no bigger than one used to charge a cell phone) machine that was a pain to carry up the mountains, but no worse than a couple of extra water bottles. Incidentally, my doctor says that an occasional night without a CPAP machine won't kill me, but giving the degree to which I snore, my cycling companions might.

I've noticed that on the web at least, there's next to no information about backpacking with CPAP machines. A lot of this is likely because amongst Westerners, apnea is associated with being fat and out of shape, hardly a precondition for a backpacking/hiking lifestyle. However, among Asians, apnea is usually associated with a small airway, and Asians don't have to be fat or out of shape to have sleep apnea.

For camping and sailing, however, you don't just need a CPAP machine, you also need to carry your power supply with you. In the case of sailboats, they have diesel engines that can power an inverter, but if you ran the diesel engine all night, your crew would be extremely unhappy with you. For camping, there's just no real solution but to carry a big honking battery. Traditional batteries sold by the traditional manufacturers weigh well over 14 pounds. That's fine for a sailboat or for car camping but is not at all acceptable on a backpacking trip!

So I did some research and found Batterygeek.net's C-222 battery which has 222 Watt Hours worth of power in a convenient 5 pound package. I used it on both the Turkey Sailing trip as well as the recent overnight from Castle Rock to Big Basin trip. In particular, on the overnight trip, I started the trip with the battery fully charged (4 bars), and after about 10 hours of use, the battery still read 4 bars at the end of it, giving me hope that the upcoming Tasmanian Overland trail (5 nights) wouldn't strain it at all. (Update: Unfortunately, in practice, the battery will only last for 1.5 nights --- it turns out the battery indicator is just useless)

To their credit, batterygeek's numbers aren't all that promising for the battery --- they promise at most 2 nights worth of use, but the GoodKnight 420E is an auto-adjusting machine, delivering only as much pressure as I need --- my apnea is highly variable, so this means that most of the night I don't need very high pressure at all, but I do occasionally spike really high.

Personally, I don't want to put a "recommended" tag on this post, since I don't recommend having Sleep Apnea (it's genetic, so I don't really have a choice). On the other hand, given that this lets me sail and go backpacking almost like a normal person, it's as good as things can get, until someone makes a fuel cell battery that runs off a few centiliters of white gas or stove alcohol and weighs only a few ounces.

(And yes, batterygeek.net also sells similar sized batteries for folks who want to run their laptops for 24 hours at a time away from power outlets)
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