Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is considered the gold standard of sleep apnea treatment.
It prevents the airway from collapsing, allowing for a restful night’s sleep and reducing the chances of potentially serious health concerns arising from sleep apnea.
As you can imagine, any object fastened to your face while pushing air into your airways isn’t something that feels ‘natural’ right away, so there is a learning curve.
Comfort, convenience, and claustrophobia are often cited as why up to 40 percent of patients requiring CPAP are not using their machine or abandoning its use altogether.
There have been numerous advances in CPAP dynamics, including quieter pumps and softer and more varied masks, but if you still have trouble getting used to it, here are five tips to make wearing your CPAP mask a little easier.
1) The Right Mask Makes a Difference
There are currently four types of facial CPAP masks, each focusing on wearability on different parts of the face.
i) Full-Face Masks: This is the classic CPAP mask that covers the mouth and nose, and like the oral masks, they are especially well suited to people who breathe through their mouths. These are recommended over other types of masks if higher air pressure is required.
ii) Nasal Masks: As the name suggests, this mask is worn only on the nose and is suited to people who move a lot in their sleep.
iii) Oral Masks: This mask offers airway assistance directly into the wearer’s mouth for people who breathe through their mouths.
iv) Nasal Pillow Mask: This type of mask provides airway pressure through the nose, and the name comes from the small pillow-like cushion that keeps it in place between the nose and the upper lip area, making it ideal for those feeling claustrophobic with full-face masks.
2) Finding the Right Fit
When a CPAP mask doesn’t fit well, it can move around and cause nasal dryness, congestion, and air leaks, potentially depriving the wearer of the full CPAP benefits.
The mask on too tight could cause discomfort and facial marks, while wearing it too loosely may cause the mask to move out of position as you sleep.
Ensuring that the face mask of your choice fits ideally may take a bit of experimentation and a few adjustments over the course of a few nights, but it’s a worthwhile step.
3) Practice Makes Perfect
Wearing a CPAP mask during waking hours can go a long way in desensitizing yourself to the feeling of a foreign object being on your face while asleep.
Wear it while performing your usual activities at home – watching TV, making dinner, or doing housework.
4) Easing the Pressure
One of the biggest challenges with CPAP therapy is breathing against the air pressure that the CPAP machine provides.
This sensation can be handled by lowering air pressure during breathing, known as pressure relief.
Some CPAP machines have a “ramp” feature for air pressure adjustment. In this scenario, you start with more tolerable air pressure, allowing you to fall asleep as it gradually increases to the prescribed level.
There are machines available that automatically change pressure if too much resistance is detected.
5) Keeping It On
If you find that you keep taking your mask off during sleep while you are trying to get used to it, it may well be because your nose is congested.
Adding a heated humidifier to your CPAP machine may help here. A chin strap could help you keep the device on your face.
Not an Option
Sleep apnea is a serious breathing-related sleep disorder that affects 3-9 percent of the general population. Due to its mechanics resulting in oxygen deprivation, sleep apnea can lead to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes over time.
For those with sleep apnea, CPAP therapy can be a lifesaver. Try these tips to help you get quality sleep and your health back on track.
- Rotenberg BW, Murariu D, Pang KP. Trends in CPAP adherence over twenty years of data collection: a flattened curve. J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2016 Aug 19;45(1):43. doi: 10.1186/s40463-016-0156-0. PMID: 27542595; PMCID: PMC4992257.