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CPAP Machine: What Is It and How Does It Work?

For people with sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), getting a good night’s rest can be challenging. The CPAP machine can help treat obstructive sleep apnea and improve sleep. But what is a CPAP machine and how does it work? Below, you'll find out everything you need to know.  

CPAP machine

What is a CPAP machine? 

Sleep is critical for living a healthy and balanced life. In fact, it’s impossible to survive without sleep and having disordered sleep creates a risk of developing serious health conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Sometimes sleep is disrupted temporarily by stress, a change in environment, or a change in routine. In these cases, we can often get our sleeping habits back on track with simple lifestyle changes. Other times, sleep disruption is caused by health conditions that need to be treated, such as sleep apnea.

What does a CPAP machine do? A CPAP machine provides Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy, which is a common treatment protocol for people who experience obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when someone periodically stops breathing during sleep, which happens when your upper airways (mainly the oropharyngeal tract, located behind the soft palate and in front of the epiglottis) collapse partially or completely. A common symptom of sleep apnea is excessive, loud snoring or startling yourself awake by gasping for air.

You might be wondering how a CPAP machine works. A CPAP machine provides continuous airflow and positive pressure in the airways while you sleep. The CPAP system includes a machine that generates airflow and pressure, a mask that you wear over the nose or nose and mouth, and tubing that connects the mask and the machine. The CPAP machine relies on a power source to keep the air flowing, either from a battery or electrical outlet.

CPAP machine benefits for health

A woman sleeping with CPAP machine

The most significant health benefit of using a CPAP machine is that it can give you better quality sleep. Poor sleep can negatively affect your mood, your ability to concentrate, and it can even have serious consequences on your long-term health.

Using your CPAP machine consistently can give you some great health benefits:

  • Decreased blood pressure and protection from coronary disease
  • Increased cognitive functioning and decreased fatigue, helping you stay productive and focused during the day
  • Significantly reduced depression and anxiety symptoms, so you feel more emotionally balanced
  • Improved relationships with your partner or spouse
  • For people with obstructive sleep apnea related to obesity, increased insulin sensitivity and improved weight loss

The effect of a CPAP machine on sleep is more profound if used every night. However, many users find the machine uncomfortable or inconvenient to use. That’s why it’s crucial to get clear instructions on how to fit the mask and use and maintain the machine. 

Poor sleep can negatively affect your mood, your ability to concentrate, and it can even have serious consequences on your long-term health.

If you have a small sleeping space, you might prefer to use a mini CPAP machine or compact CPAP machine. If you travel a lot, you may want to invest in a portable CPAP machine or travel CPAP machine that you can easily bring with you wherever you go.

CPAP machine side effects

Although CPAP machines can improve your quality of sleep and can offset the health risks associated with poor sleep, using a CPAP machine can also have negative side effects. 

One of the most common issues with using a CPAP machine is finding one that fits well and then adapting to using it. It can take a while to get used to sleeping with a CPAP machine because of the mask and the incoming airflow. It’s important to speak with your healthcare provider if you find that your device is uncomfortable to wear.

One of the most common issues with using a CPAP machine is finding one that fits well and then adapting to using it.

The most common CPAP machine side effects include dry nose or mouth, difficulty falling asleep, more frequent awakenings, blocked nose, irritated or dry skin, mask pressure, or mask leakage. Keep reading to learn how to avoid these uncomfortable side effects.

Dry nose or mouth

The CPAP machine releases a flow of air through your breathing tract that can cause dryness in the mouth or nasal mucus membranes.

If you use a CPAP machine and sleep with your mouth open, try using a mask that has a chin strap to keep your mouth closed, as long as you’re not congested. CPAP machines with built-in heated humidifiers can also help retain moisture throughout the night, reducing the symptoms of dryness.

Difficulty falling asleep 

When you first start using a CPAP machine, it can take some trial and error to feel comfortable enough with it for a good night’s sleep. 

Masks also come in different shapes and sizes – some fit only over the nose or mouth while others can cover your entire face. Wearing it for short periods of time during the day when you’re at home can help you get used to having the mask on your face.

Practice other healthy sleep habits like getting regular exercise and wind down before bed.

If the airflow is distracting to you, look for a device that slowly increases air pressure over time so that it reaches its prescribed setting after you’ve fallen asleep.

Practice other healthy sleep habits like getting regular exercise and wind down before bed. If you still have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, you may have insomnia, which isn’t something that a CPAP machine can fix.

Blocked nose, runny nose, or sneezing

Sometimes cool air from CPAP can irritate the nasal lining, causing a runny nose and provoking sneezing. This usually gets better after a week or so. If not, consult your doctor for help. 

Irritated or dry face skin

If your mask is too loose around your nose and face, air can leak out around the sides. The excess air around your nose can make your skin dry, causing it to flake or feel itchy. 

Adjust the pads and straps around the mask to help keep it on your face even if you move around in the night. Applying a moisturizer before and after you use your CPAP machine can help reduce the effects of dry skin.

Five tips on how to clean a CPAP machine

Since a CPAP machine gets used every night, it’s important to keep it clean. If you use a CPAP machine, you may be wondering about the best way to clean it or if CPAP cleaners really work. They do — using CPAP machine cleaners regularly will help keep you healthy and keep your device functioning well over time. 

There are a few different CPAP cleaning machines available on the market. Some use ultraviolet light to disinfect, while ozone cleaners use time-release activated oxygen.

Since a CPAP machine gets used every night, it’s important to keep it clean. Using CPAP machine cleaners regularly will help keep you healthy and keep your device functioning well over time.

Are ozone CPAP cleaners safe? They are, as long as you use the machine correctly. It’s especially important that you wait the amount of time recommended by the manufacturer before you use the device again after cleaning.

Regardless of which type of CPAP cleaner you use, you’ll still want to know how to clean all parts of your machine with warm soap and water.

Here are the top five tips to remember when cleaning your CPAP machine:

Follow instructions

If you’re using a CPAP cleaning machine, follow the manufacturer’s instructions so that you clean your CPAP machine correctly. 

If you don’t follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning, you might void the warranty, and your CPAP machine might not work as intended or for its full lifespan.

Clean it immediately after use

Clean your CPAP machine when you get up in the morning. Your mask and tubing may have accumulated moisture, which can collect bacteria if left unattended. 

Some machines have a humidifier and air filter, which will have their own cleaning instructions.

Make cleaning your CPAP machine part of your morning routine. Just like you brush your teeth and wash your face in the morning, your machine needs cleaning too!

Know your parts

Your CPAP machine has many different components, including tubing, a mask, pads, and straps. Some machines have a humidifier and air filter, which will have their own cleaning instructions. You should try to clean every part in between uses to keep harmful bacteria at bay. 

Remember to unplug your CPAP machine before you clean it to avoid electrical shock. 

Have a backup plan

If your CPAP machine isn’t working, you’ll need to clean your machine manually with warm soap and water. Use a soft cloth to clean all the parts and put them on a clean towel to let them dry out. You can wipe external surfaces with a damp, soft cloth or CPAP cleaning wipes to remove dust. Soak removable parts like the tubing and mask in a clean tub of warm water and gentle dish soap or a 1:1 ratio of water and vinegar.

Never submerge your machine in water; disassemble the parts for cleaning and drying.

Dry it out

Once you’ve finished cleaning your CPAP machine, let it dry before you use it again. If moisture builds up in the machine, it will attract bacteria — and possibly mold — that can be harmful to your health. 

Reassemble before use

Once the parts are dry, you can reassemble your CPAP machine for use. Turn your machine on briefly before you use it to listen for any unusual sounds that indicate air leaks. If there are air leaks, the parts haven’t been firmly reassembled or connected and need to be checked. 

Wrapping up

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, a CPAP machine will help you get better sleep and improve your health. By now, you know what a CPAP machine does, how it works, and how to clean a CPAP machine. If you have any questions about using your CPAP machine, speak with your doctor or a sleep specialist who can offer guidance. 

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