ABCs of Sleep—C is for CPAP

A typical CPAP machine is small
enough to put on your nightstand
and includes a humidifier and
other simple adjustments.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. A device for treating obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep-related breathing disorders.

CPAP is a common therapy which involves wearing a mask hooked to a machine delivering continuous air pressure in order to “splint open” the upper airway to prevent sleep obstruction. CPAP therapy is considered the gold standard for treating apneas.

This nasal mask is light enough to be
comfortable while still being an  effective
aid for improved breathing while asleep.

CPAP machines don’t actually deliver oxygen to the patient airway via the mask, they just provide the right amount of pressure through the mask to keep the patient’s airway “patent” or open. This kind of therapy helps keep the patient fully oxygenated while asleep, preventing a wide array of homeostatic problems such as hypoventilation, oxidative stress on the heart and hypertension. In fact, CPAP is considered a life-saving, life-altering device. Many patients have added years to their lives after using this therapy. Most patients, once adapted and compliant to CPAP therapy, report increased energy during the day and more restful sleep at night.

There are multiple versions of PAP therapies, including Bi-Pap and AutoPap, which regulate pressures through algorithms and preset programs to make the experience of breathing simpler and more comfortable for those with additional or multiple respiratory issues.

Today’s CPAP therapy uses various kinds of masks to deliver the pressure, include oral nasal masks with or without chin straps, nasal pillows and full face masks. The technology has rapidly improved in recent years so that machines are far more quiet and deliver more comfortable pressure using built-in humidifiers; the masks today are also made of ultralight hospital grade silicone which is more light and flexible than previous masks.

Links to learn more:

What is CPAP? || National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
How CPAP controls sleep apnea || Mayo Clinic (VIDEO)
Sleep and CPAP Adherence || National Sleep Foundation
AASM Recommendations for Treatment || SleepWell Solutions


Spriggs, WH. (2010.) Glossary. In Essentials of Polysomnography (pp585-606). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers

About Tamara Kaye Sellman (621 Articles)

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