CPAP therapy is a popular treatment for those with sleep apnea, a disorder that causes the sleeper to experience periodic breathing gaps1, often due to an airway obstruction. A CPAP machine provides a stream of pressurized air to help keep the airway open for more consistent, healthy breathing.
Using a CPAP machine regularly could lead to substantial benefits for your physical and mental health, as well as your quality of life. In this article, we’ll go over some of the key benefits of CPAP machines. We’ll also review how to get a CPAP machine and help you determine if CPAP therapy is right for your particular case of sleep apnea. If it’s not, we’ll discuss some alternative treatments.
Research shows that CPAP therapy can be an effective treatment for sleep apnea2, reducing the risk of various health complications3 such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and accidents, as well as improving blood pressure, alertness, mental health, and even relationships.
Reduces Risk of Heart Problems
Those with sleep apnea can experience sudden drops of oxygen because they stop breathing multiple times a night. This puts a considerable strain on the heart and cardiovascular system, and, if you already have heart disease, this consistent drop in oxygen levels could even lead to sudden death from an irregular heartbeat.1
Fortunately, regular use of a CPAP machine should stabilize your oxygen levels during sleep, which means protection from heart problems like congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, and irregular heartbeat.3
Lowers Risk of a Stroke
A stroke occurs4 when blood flow to the brain is blocked (ischemic stroke) or when there is sudden bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). In both cases, a stroke can result in severe brain damage or even death.4
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, people with untreated sleep apnea are two to four times more likely to experience a stroke.3 However, consistently using a CPAP machine has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke5 in sleep apnea patients.
Improves Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure typically dips 10-20 percent6 throughout the night. However, those with obstructive sleep apnea can experience a less than 10-percent dip in blood pressure, putting them at a higher risk for high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues.6 Using a CPAP machine, though, has been shown to reduce blood pressure7.
Lowers Risk of Accidents
If your oxygen levels plummet during sleep, your body responds by waking you up so that you can increase your oxygen levels. Sometimes, these awakenings are so short that you won’t even remember them the next day, but people with sleep apnea can experience these micro-awakenings multiple times a night. These repeated disturbances impact the amount of quality sleep you’re able to get and can lead to increased fatigue the next day.1
This sort of fatigue can result in trouble concentrating while driving, and people with sleep apnea have an increased risk of motor vehicle and workplace accidents.1 For those with sleep apnea who consistently use a CPAP machine, their chances of such accidents are much lower8.
Boosts Alertness and Cognitive Function
It may seem obvious that not getting quality sleep because of untreated sleep apnea would decrease your alertness the next day. However, did you know that this also has a huge impact on your brain’s ability to learn new information9 and remember those details in the future?
Using a CPAP consistently can improve your quality of sleep, which means a boost in alertness, concentration, and cognitive function during the day.3
Cultivates Better Mental Health
People with sleep apnea are at a higher risk for depression10, and, the more severe the sleep apnea, the more severe the depression.
However, CPAP therapy seems to be a sound treatment for depressive symptoms. In one study, 73 percent11 of sleep apnea patients showed clinically depressive symptoms, but after three months of CPAP therapy, this number was reduced to 4 percent of patients. Even those with suicidal thoughts at the beginning of the study reported a complete cessation of these thoughts after three months of consistent CPAP therapy.11
Helps Prevent Diabetes
Untreated sleep apnea increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.1 This is because consistently waking up through the night – no matter how briefly – leads to glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, both of which are factors in type 2 diabetes.3
Treating sleep apnea with CPAP therapy has been shown to reduce the fluctuation of blood glucose levels12, helping to prevent diabetes and improving abnormal glucose metabolism in patients who already have type 2 diabetes.
One of the most common side effects of sleep apnea is loud snoring.1 In people with obstructive sleep apnea, this is caused by the airway narrowing so much during sleep that the tissues vibrate together, which causes snoring13.
A CPAP’s job is to keep the airway from collapsing by providing a continuous flow of air pressure. With this, snoring should be reduced, if not eliminated.3
Could Improve Romantic Relationships
If you or your partner snores, it probably won’t be a surprise to learn that snoring can negatively impact romantic relationships by “instigating stress and strain14” between partners. Snoring and gasping for air are two symptoms that could be more noisy and bothersome for the other person. This could lead to sleep deprivation and tiredness during the day.
As one study discovered15, though, introducing CPAP therapy could be the key to a healthier romantic relationship between partners. The researchers cited that the reason for this is likely due to feeling less tired and having more energy to be active.15
Do I Need a CPAP Machine?
People with moderate to severe sleep apnea will likely benefit the most from a CPAP machine. In contrast, those with mild sleep or occasional apnea may be able to use alternative treatments.1
How do you know if you have sleep apnea in the first place? Some of the most common sleep apnea signs include1:
- Loud snoring
- Episodes where you stop breathing during the night
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Waking with a dry mouth or headache
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Trouble concentrating
Additionally, your chances of having sleep apnea are higher if you are overweight, male, elderly, if you smoke, drink alcohol, use sedatives before bed, or have a family history of sleep apnea.1 If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms – and especially if you are a higher-risk person – you should speak to your doctor.
Your doctor may recommend a sleep study where they can determine whether or not you have sleep apnea and how severe it is. Depending on its severity, your doctor may prescribe CPAP therapy.
How to Get a CPAP Machine
Once your doctor has diagnosed you with sleep apnea and determined CPAP is the best form of treatment, they can write you a prescription for a CPAP machine. You cannot access a CPAP machine without a doctor’s prescription.
With your prescription, you can either get a CPAP through your insurance provider, who will likely partially cover the costs, or you can purchase one directly from a local medical supplier, online, or from your sleep clinic.
Read our guide: Best CPAP Machines
Depending on how severe your sleep apnea is, you may be able to use other treatments in place of or in addition to CPAP therapy. These CPAP alternatives include a mix of lifestyle changes and medical options.
- Change your sleep position – Experts recommend those with sleep apnea avoid sleeping on their backs, as this position can cause the tongue to collapse to the back of the throat, worsening symptoms.13 Sleeping on your side or stomach may be enough to improve symptoms, especially for those with less severe apnea.
- Elevate your head – If sleeping on your side is uncomfortable, try elevating your head with a higher pillow or an adjustable base bed. Studies show that sleeping at an incline16 can improve snoring and sleep apnea.
- Try an oral device – Some people opt for an oral device (or mandibular advancement device17) rather than a CPAP machine. These devices, which are custom-made for your mouth by a dentist, move your jaw and tongue into a position that could reduce sleep apnea symptoms.
- Lose weight – Excess weight and obesity increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea, as fatty tissue around the upper airway can restrict breathing, especially when the throat muscles are relaxed during sleep.1 Weight loss is considered an effective long-term treatment18 for sleep apnea. If you’re overweight, talk to your doctor to find a weight loss plan that will work for you.
- Avoid alcohol – Alcohol relaxes the muscles in the back of the throat, which can either cause or worsen sleep apnea.1 If you have sleep apnea, it’s recommended that you avoid drinking alcohol, especially before bedtime.13
- Avoid certain medications – Like alcohol, certain sedative medications19 can cause or worsen sleep apnea because they relax the muscles in the back of the throat. Additionally, any medications that can increase your risk of weight gain or boost your testosterone levels can worsen sleep apnea.19
- Clear up congestion – Congestion caused by allergies, a cold, or even pregnancy can increase snoring and worsen sleep apnea.13 However, there are several options for clearing up congestion20, including nasal sprays, allergy and cold medications, saline solution nasal rinses, humidifiers, and staying hydrated throughout the day.
- Quit smoking – Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than those who don’t smoke, as it increases the amount of inflammation in the upper airway.1
- Surgery – There are different surgical options to treat snoring and sleep apnea, and which one you choose will depend on what is causing your sleep apnea in the first place.
For example, if enlarged tonsils or adenoids are causing it, you can get a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy.13 Thermal ablation can reduce the amount of tissue in the airway, and there is a surgical procedure that stiffens the soft palate.13 A more recent surgical option is called hypoglossal nerve stimulation, in which a pacemaker-like device is inserted. This device detects when you’re breathing and then stimulates the muscles in the tongue to move out of the airway when you inhale.13
- Try a different positive airway pressure (PAP) device – If you have tried CPAP therapy and it doesn’t work for you, you may want to try a different type of PAP device. Some other options include bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) devices, automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) devices, and a newer technology called nasal expiratory positive airway pressure (Nasal EPAP). BiPAP and APAP devices look a lot like CPAPs but provide different air pressure levels, whereas a nasal EPAP21 involves placing smaller, disposable valves inside the nostrils just before going to bed.
Learn more: 10 CPAP Alternatives
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the benefits of using a CPAP machine?
Using a CPAP machine is one of the most effective treatments for sleep apnea. Staying consistent with CPAP therapy can reduce your risk of various health complications like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and accidents, as well as improve blood pressure, alertness, mental health, and even your relationships.3
Should I use my CPAP machine when I am awake?
You can use your CPAP machine while you are awake when you are first getting used to your machine. Try wearing it for short periods while watching television, reading, or doing some other passive activity; this way, it won’t feel so foreign when you’re wearing it to sleep. Other than that, there is no need to use your CPAP machine while you are awake unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
How long before I see CPAP benefits?
Some people notice benefits after just one or two nights of CPAP therapy22, while others take more time to adjust. Experts are mixed in their estimates here, but one earlier study23 showed improved sleep, reduced fatigue, and more energy after three weeks of consistent CPAP use.
Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.
- “Sleep apnea”. Mayo Clinic. Last modified April 6, 2023.
- Calik, Michael W. “Treatments for Obstructive Sleep Apnea”. National Library of Medicine. 2016.
- “CPAP”. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 2020.
- “What Is a Stroke?”. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Last modified May 26, 2023.
- Kim, Yeshin., et. al. “Can Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Reduce the Risk of Stroke in Obstructive Sleep Apnea Patients? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”. PLoS One. 2016.
- Bloomfield, Dennis., Park, Alex. “Night time blood pressure dip”. World Journal of Cardiology. 2015.
- Boneberg, Raphael., et al. “High Plasma Cystine Levels Are Associated with Blood Pressure and Reversed by CPAP in Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea”. National Library of Medicine. 2021.
- Udholm, Nichlas., et al. “Obstructive sleep apnea and road traffic accidents: a Danish nationwide cohort study”. Sleep Medicine. 2022.
- “The Science of Sleep: Understanding What Happens When You Sleep”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Webpage accessed November 24, 2023.
- Li, Mei., et al. “Association of sleep apnea and depressive symptoms among US adults: a cross-sectional study”. BMC Public Health. 2023.
- “CPAP therapy reduces symptoms of depression in adults with sleep apnea”. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 2015.
- Zhao, Xin., et al. “Effect of CPAP on blood glucose fluctuation in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus and obstructive sleep apnea”. Sleep and Breathing. 2022.
- “Snoring”. Yale Medicine. Webpage accessed November 24, 2023.
- Zarhin, Dana. “Sleep as a Gendered Family Affair: Snoring and the “Dark Side” of Relationships”. Sage Journals. 2016.
- Lai, Agnes Y.K., et al. “A pathway underlying the impact of CPAP adherence on intimate relationship with bed partner in men with obstructive sleep apnea”. Sleep Breath. 2016.
- Danoff-Burg, Sharon., et al. “Sleeping in an Inclined Position to Reduce Snoring and Improve Sleep: In-home Product Intervention Study”. National Library of Medicine. 2022.
- Jayesh, S. Raghavendra., Bhat, Wasim Manzoor. “Mandibular advancement device for obstructive sleep apnea: An overview”. Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences. 2015.
- Watson, Stephanie. “Weight loss, breathing devices still best for treating obstructive sleep apnea”. Harvard Health. 2013.
- Jullian‐Desayes, Ingrid., et al. “Impact of concomitant medications on obstructive sleep apnoea”. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2017.
- “Nasal Congestion”. Cleveland Clinic. Last modified July 1, 2022.
- Lorenzi-Filho, Geraldo., et al. “Treating OSA: Current and emerging therapies beyond CPAP”. Respirology. 2017.
- “CPAP”. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Last modified March 24, 2022.
- “Study shows that CPAP therapy reduces fatigue, increases energy in patients with sleep apnea”. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 2010.