This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is the leading therapy for sleep apnea. Patients wear a face or nasal mask during sleep. The mask, connected to a pump, provides a positive flow of air into the nasal passages in order to keep the airway open. Most insurance companies now pay for sleep testing and for CPAP treatment.

Dental appliances can be prescribed for mild sleep disordered breathing, but they are not effective for everyone with OSA. Doctors recommend weight loss for overweight people who snore or have sleep apnea, since weight loss may eliminate or significantly improve breathing during sleep. However, people who are not overweight can also be afflicted with sleep apnea due to the structure and makeup of their upper airway.


The majority of people who use CPAP find immediate symptom relief and are delighted with their increased energy and mental sharpness during the day. Many patients have said, “CPAP changed my life!” But some patients find CPAP masks uncomfortable, even though it may control their sleep apnea. Many need extra assistance to get a mask that fits correctly. Side effects are usually mild and temporary, and include nasal congestion, sore eyes, headaches and abdominal bloating. Many people get used to CPAP over two-to-twelve weeks, and according to some research studies, less than one-half of CPAP patients discontinue treatment.

CPAP also provides a benefit for bed partners. According to a study published in Chest (Kiely and McNicholas, Vol. 111, 1997), many bed partners are driven away from the bedroom due to the harsh sounds of snoring and apnea, but CPAP silences these noises and the partner comes back to the bedroom.

Follow-up is the most important factor in patient compliance. Health professionals have advanced technology and compliance reporting tools available that allow them to help patients with CPAP treatment soon after they begin making use of it. These methods complement compliance when coupled with patient education and a positive first experience with CPAP.