CPAP: Making it Work for You

This is a fact sheet about CPAP and Making it Work for You. CPAP involves the use of a machine that delivers a constant stream of pressurised air through a mask to keep the airway open during sleep.

Woman wearing a CPAP mask, asleep in bed. Image by on Freepik
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January 12, 2024
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Things you should know:

  • You should start to feel better during the day after you start CPAP, although it may not happen immediately.
  • CPAP helps your health and wellbeing in many different ways.
  • Sometimes people using CPAP need a change in their pressure. This needs discussion with a specialist.
  • Not everyone finds using CPAP easy, but there are things you can do to help.

Why is it important to use CPAP?

If you suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) and need treatment, the most effective option we have at the moment is CPAP. Full details about this treatment can be found on our Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) fact sheet.

CPAP can improve health of people with OSA in many ways, although these may not be obvious straight away. CPAP has been shown to improve blood pressure and diabetes. It may also reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Many people feel much better and enjoy life more after they start using CPAP. They wake up feeling more refreshed in the morning and are less sleepy during the day. Energy levels are improved, they are able to concentrate better and get more things done. Mood is increased and their libido may be restored. Often, the bed partner is able to sleep more soundly when the person with OSA starts using CPAP. Some partners worry about their loved one having breathing pauses during the night. The partner will stay awake to make sure that they start breathing again. With CPAP, the person with OSA breathes throughout the night and is no longer keeping their bed partner awake with their snoring and restless sleep.

What if my sleep apnoea symptoms seem to be coming back?

After using CPAP for a while, some people notice that their original symptoms are returning. They start snoring again, feel tired or have difficulty concentrating during the day. If this happens to you, you should contact your sleep specialist. There are many reasons for symptoms returning. It might just be that your sleep apnoea is changing. The machine pressure setting may need to be adjusted or there may be a problem with your mask. Your sleep specialist will be the best person to help. They are used to dealing with these problems. After the treatment is adjusted, you will get back on track.

What might cause the need for pressure change?

If there has been a weight gain, a higher pressure is often needed. Just the process of getting older can change how much CPAP pressure is needed. For some people, their sleep apnoea is worse when sleeping on their back than on their side. If sleep habits change, the CPAP pressure may need adjusting. Some people need to change their sleeping position due to pain from a medical condition e.g. arthritis. A change in any drugs that you take to treat another illness may make your sleep apnoea worse. This can mean that you may need to adjust the pressure, or it may help to speak with your doctor about changing the time you take the drugs. Don't forget that expert help is available and you do not have to solve these issues by yourself.

What are the key messages to remember when using CPAP?

Using CPAP means you can sleep safely and well.

You are in charge of the treatment and can take off the mask and stop the machine at any chosen time. You are able to choose how far your therapy will go. But keep in mind that this treatment is the best option at this point in time and it only works when it is being used. 

Get used to handling your mask and feel comfortable with it. This is a vital part of learning to use CPAP. You could even put your CPAP mask on your face when you're doing things such as watching television. This will help you get used to having the mask on. Make CPAP a key part of your health, with the aim of turning it into just something that you need to do every night – like cleaning your teeth.

ramp is a useful device on most CPAP machines. It allows less pressure when you first turn on your machine. This will slowly build up to the pressure you need, sometimes not reaching the full pressure until after you are asleep. A ramp may make it easier to use your CPAP machine on a nightly basis.

There are many options available on modern CPAP machines to improve comfort. Newer machines are quieter, smaller and equipped with ways to decrease the sensations of pressure. Some automatically adjust pressure throughout the night, seeking the lowest effective pressure for the type of sleep and body position you are in. Others will lower the pressure a little when you are breathing out.

There are many styles of mask available including some very small and lightweight models. Your CPAP supplier will help you choose the one that is best for you.

You may wake and find your mask is off. This happens for many CPAP users. It may mean that you need to have either the pump pressure or your mask adjusted. You should see your doctor or your sleep physician to discuss this. After improving what you can, it may still occur from time to time. If you continue to wake up with the mask off, the important thing is what you do next. Put your mask back on and gently and slowly slide back into sleep as the CPAP works.

Taking a “night off” is not a good idea because it can often lead to “two to three nights off”. You may end up only using it one or two nights per week. This pattern of treatment is not good for your health or snoring!

Have realistic expectations about using CPAP. To succeed with CPAP you may need to be patient and stick with it. CPAP will not “cure” all aspects of your health problems but it will help you to feel so much better and get more out of life. You will be a safe sleeper at night. You should take responsibility for your equipment, cleaning and maintaining it. At times, you may need to seek help and work through technical problems that may come up. If you control your sleep apnoea with CPAP, you will enjoy a healthier life. See also Travelling with CPAP.

Download a PDF of this Fact Sheet

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