Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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CPAP - Overview

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is the frontline treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP therapy keeps your airway open during the night by gently providing a constant stream of air through a mask you wear while you sleep. This eliminates the breathing pauses caused by sleep apnea, so you will no longer snore or make choking noises in your sleep. You will be able to sleep through the night without your body waking up from a lack of oxygen.

When you use CPAP each night, you will feel more alert during the daytime. Your mood will improve and you will have a better memory. CPAP prevents or even reverses serious health problems linked to sleep apnea such as heart disease and stroke. Your partner may even sleep better because you will stop snoring.

CPAP comes with a machine, flexible tubing and a mask. Most machines are small – about the size of a tissue box – lightweight and relatively quiet. You can keep the CPAP machine on your nightstand or at the side of your bed.

The tubing connects the CPAP machine to your mask. The tubing is long enough to allow you to move around or turn over in your bed.

The CPAP mask may cover only your nose or both your nose and mouth. Another option is to use "nasal pillows," which fit in your nostrils. No matter what type of mask you use, it is important that it fits well and is comfortable. The mask must make a seal in order to keep your airway open through the night. A good mask seal will prevent air leaks and maintain the right level of air pressure.

Your sleep doctor will determine the amount of air pressure needed for CPAP to treat your sleep apnea. The doctor may recommend a CPAP titration study to calibrate your air pressure setting. Most CPAP units also come with a timed pressure “ramp” setting. This starts the airflow at a very low level, so you can fall asleep comfortably. The setting then slowly raises the pressure while you sleep until it reaches the right level to treat your sleep apnea.

CPAP is a lifestyle change. It works best when used every night, for the entire time you are sleeping. You also should use CPAP when you are napping. Just one night without the treatment can have a negative impact on your blood pressure. The more you use CPAP, the better you will feel.

Updated Aug. 10, 2015

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