How to Use a CPAP Machine for Better Sleep


This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Learn more about how these medical devices can make a big difference in nighttime comfort for people with breathing issues.

Recent advances in medical technology have greatly improved the performance of CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, machines—devices that help people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) breathe more regularly at night, resulting in a better, deeper sleep, often with less snoring.

In someone with OSA, the airway narrows or collapses during sleep, causing oxygen levels to fall, which triggers the brain to wake the person briefly in order to re-open the airway. This is not only disruptive to sleep, but also can increase the body’s stress response which in turn raises the risk for developing higher blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke.

CPAP works by blowing air into the throat via a mask, subtly increasing air pressure in the throat and preventing the airway from narrowing. The machine offers several benefits, such as reduced daytime fatigue, improved focus, lower blood pressure, and lower risk of heart disease and other medical conditions.

There are a few things to look for to ensure your CPAP machine is effective. First, it’s important that the seal over your airways is tight enough to allow for continuous air pressure from your CPAP. There are several variations of the CPAP mask, including nasal or full face, and they come in many shapes and sizes, so it’s best to try a few and see which style fits your face most comfortably.

Also, look for machines that include a humidifier, as the airflow from the CPAP can dry out your mouth and nose. Some machines now include built-in heaters that warm the moist air first.

If you want to guarantee you’re making the most of your machine, proper care and maintenance is necessary. Using distilled water will prevent any build up from natural minerals found in tap water. You can clean a CPAP machine in a variety of ways, starting with the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions. You should wash the mask daily or after every use. Headgear can be washed weekly or bi-weekly. Clean parts by soaking them in a white vinegar solution (use one-part vinegar to three-parts warm water) and then let them air dry.

The CPAP’s humidifier chamber should be washed each day. To clean it, empty the chamber, then gently scrub it with a soft cloth, soap, and warm water. Alternately, you can use the vinegar solution to soak the chamber, as the acidity is great for removing build up of bacteria. Just be sure to rinse thoroughly after. Clean and replace the filters based on the manufacturer’s instructions.

The machine’s tubing should also be cleaned at least once a week. To wash these parts, use warm water and a mild detergent. There are also cleaning brushes that are designed specifically to ft the needs of cleaning CPAP equipment and accessories, which you can find online or buy in medical supply stores.

Many masks have nasal pillows, and you should wash these parts at least every other day for maximum cleanliness using a little soap and warm water. You can also use cleansing wipes. After washing, allow the nasal pillows to air dry.

CPAP machines provide relief for many people with OSA. Your physician or sleep specialist will be able to tell you how to use the device for maximum effectiveness. Schedule regular appointments to discuss how you are feeling in response to CPAP therapy. Some machines have data that you can download and share with your doctor to determine if the settings on the machine are still effective. For instance, the data can indicate if there are any issues with your mask or if you need to adjust the pressure settings, which your doctor can do for you.