While CPAP is an effective treatment for sleep apnea, patient adherence rates have remained low at a low 34% over the past twenty years. (1) Considering that a CPAP machine can be a lot to adjust to, it’s not too surprising. CPAP masks can be uncomfortable, and it can take a lot to adapt to a point where you can get a good night’s rest.
Since CPAP treatment is there to help with sleep apnea, it’s essential to stick with it. We’ve built a guide on how to get used to CPAP—so you can get your well earned good night’s sleep.
Disclaimer: Here at Sleep.FM, we’re not Doctors (sorry Mom!). That said, the info and statistics we’ve gathered here are for educational purposes only, so it’s recommended you always consult with your appointed Doctor.
Now, without further delay, let’s unravel the mystery together and jump right in with our #1 tip from our sleep experts.
#1 Come With an Open Mind (Because Things Will Get Better)
You will likely not automatically adjust to your CPAP device—and that’s okay! Wearing a mask while sleeping can be a significant adjustment.
When starting to learn how to sleep with a CPAP mask on, keep an open mind. After all, your
CPAP machine is here to help you through your sleep apnea to rest better. Those long-term benefits will ultimately outweigh any initial discomfort you feel with CPAP therapy.
The longer you stick with your CPAP mask and machine, the more used to their presence you’ll become. Even if it’s uncomfortable at first, you should wear it every night to adjust faster.
Ultimately—and with the use of other tips on this list—your CPAP therapy will impact you less and less as you try to fall asleep.
#2 Try Using Your Mask During the Day to Acclimate Yourself
Since a CPAP mask is a new experience, you may need some time to adjust to wearing it. Try wearing your equipment during different points of your day when doing something relaxing, like watching a movie.
This process will help you get used to wearing your CPAP mask, so it’s not a distraction when you’re trying to rest. You can also notice if you need to make adjustments to the settings to suit better the humidity and air environment in your home vs. the CPAP clinic where you set up the first time.
#3 Ease Your Stuffy Nose With a Mild Nasal Decongestant
Stuffy noses, in general, can impact your breathing—especially when you try to sleep. If your CPAP machine has a nasal mask, getting any benefit while congested isn’t likely.
If you have this issue, a mild nasal decongestant can help clear things out to make breathing more manageable—and your CPAP therapy more comfortable. That said, be careful while using your CPAP mask when you have a cold, as this can potentially contaminate it.
#4 Try Using a Heated Humidifier to Help Your Nasal Passage
Another nose issue connected to CPAP therapy is that it can dry out your nose, causing discomfort. Sometimes, this is the cause of a leaky mask, so check that yours fits appropriately. If that’s not the issue, then consider the use of a humidifier.
Many CPAP machines have humidifier features. With more moisture in the air, your nose won’t dry out as quickly. Try different humidification settings to find the one that best helps you.
#5 Consider Changing Your Pillow Type (Ask Yourself: What Kind Do You Use Now?)
Pillows impact how we sleep in terms of comfort. If you don’t know what kind of pillow you use, this is an excellent time to ask. There are even special CPAP pillows that can accommodate your
CPAP hose and mask, so you don’t need to struggle with getting comfortable.
Even if you don’t want a unique CPAP pillow, you can still pay attention to your choice of pillow, depending on how you sleep.
Stomach Sleeper Pillow
Stomach sleepers pair best with thinner pillows, like these we’ve rounded up on our best pillows for stomach sleepers page. Since the goal of sleeping is to keep your neck and spine in the proper positions, a flat pillow gives the right positioning for those who like to spread out on your belly.
Back Sleeper Pillow
Back sleepers should focus on pillows that will contour to the curve in their necks while still supporting the weight of their heads. If a pillow is too thick, it can tilt the head upwards enough to disrupt your spine.
If this is your preferred sleeping position, check out our #1 back sleeper pillow on the market to further improve your nightly sleep.
Side Sleeper Pillow
Side sleeping is often the recommended position for those using CPAP therapy. A neurologist and sleep disorder physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Josna Adusumilli, MD, says, “Sleeping on your side may help improve airflow.” For those with sleep apnea, “sleeping on your side may help improve the quality of your sleep and oxygen levels during sleep.” (2)
With that in mind, side sleepers tend to need thicker pillows to provide the right amount of support than other sleeping positions. You can still run the risk of going too thick and tilting your head upwards too much. The goal is to give your neck enough lift to stay in line with your spine.
Getting a pillow that matches your sleeping position can help with comfort levels to help you sleep, while also being healthier for your spine.
#6 Try Meditation Techniques to Help You Relax and Work on Your Breathing
A study conducted by scientists from USC and UCLA found that “focusing attention and awareness on the present moment without judgment or reacting to thoughts — as taught through mindfulness meditation — has positive effects not just on sleep but on daytime fatigue and depression.” (3)
With this study in mind, meditation techniques can help those who practice it relax more to fall asleep more easily. Mindfulness techniques may also help reduce the anxiety that can come from getting used to wearing a CPAP mask at night.
Beginners’ meditation techniques are simple enough to pick up, and they often focus on your breathing. This practice gives you the added benefit of letting you work on your breath to ease you into sleep better.
You can practice meditation throughout your day and while trying to fall asleep to help achieve the relaxation benefits that can impact your sleep.
#7 Implement “Sleep Hacks”
Your issues with falling asleep may not just be due to your CPAP therapy; you may also need to improve your sleep hygiene! There are plenty of sleep hacks out there, but one of the most helpful can be to dim the lights before you head to bed.
“Light is a natural stimulant,” says W. Chris Winter, MD, a sleep specialist at the Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine Clinic, “because our brains interpret any light as a signal to be alert.” (4) As you get ready for bed, reduce how much light is on – and that includes technology screens!
#8 Make Sure You’re Hydrated by Drinking Water – To Avoid “Dry Mouth”
When sleeping with a CPAP device, you may end up sleeping with your mouth open. This can lead to dry mouth (one of the many side effects of a CPAP machine), which can impact your comfort while attempting to sleep.
Keeping yourself hydrated is one of the most basic ways to help counter dry mouth. Take care to drink plenty of water throughout your day and before headed to bed. Even when we sleep at night, our bodies lose fluids by breathing, so hydrate throughout the day to better set yourself up for the evening. (5)
#9 Try Sleeping With Headphones, Earbuds, or Earplugs
Just like how light is a stimulant that keeps us awake, sounds can do the same. Compared to older CPAP machines, newer models run near-silent not to provide a distraction while you sleep.
That said, everyone has different sensitivity levels to sound, so the noise may distract you from relaxing at bedtime. If this is the case for you, consider sleeping with headphones or earbuds to play relaxing music or white noise. Alternatively, try out earplugs to entirely block outside sounds.
#10 Try a Different Mask Style, Brand, or Model
Mask styles can impact your level of comfort with your CPAP machine. Nasal masks can work well for those who feel claustrophobic while wearing a full face mask. On the flip side, full face CPAP masks can help out people who breathe more through their mouths. The size of the mask can also impact your comfort!
Sometimes, the particular design of the brand or model of your mask can be the issue. If the other methods on this list has not helped you sleep comfortably with your CPAP machine, it can be worth trying different masks.
#11 Try a Different Machine Altogether (The Last Resort!)
As an absolute final resort, you may need to get a different machine. You should try everything else on this list first, but sometimes you just won’t be compatible with your machine.
When replacing your machine, features can play a big part consider:
- The sound level when the CPAP operates
- If the CPAP has a humidifier
- If the CPAP can adjust the air pressure setting as you exhale
- If the CPAP has an auto ramp feature, so you ease into your prescribed air pressure setting
You can always discuss with your CPAP specialist which features might help you before you pick a new model to switch to.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have questions regarding obstructive sleep apnea machines, masks, and their impact on your nightly sleep? We’ve answered some of the more common ones here.
How long does it take to get used to wearing a CPAP?
Each CPAP user will take a different amount of time to get used to it, with the average timeframe lasting between thirty days to three months. (6)
The more consistently you use your CPAP mask, the more quickly you’ll adjust to it. Try wearing your mask without the air pressure on for shorter amounts of time while doing relaxing activities. Regularly using your CPAP from night to night will also help our body adjust—as well as the tips on our list!
Why am I more tired after using CPAP?
This is another question that will have a different answer for each patient. You may not have just used your CPAP machine for long enough to start seeing a difference in some cases. As with any change in our sleeping patterns, our bodies need time to adjust to the changes.
Other reasons can include not having your CPAP correctly set up, a mild case of sleep apnea not having as much impact on your sleep, or even the development of insomnia. (7) It’s best to discuss any issues you’re having with your obstructive sleep apnea expert.
How do I keep my mouth shut with CPAP?
If you wear a face CPAP mask, breathing with your mouth open won’t be as much of an issue.
However, for CPAP users who aren’t comfortable with these masks, they will use the nasal mask alternative—breathing through your mouth can cause an air leak.
A simple way to help you get your mouth to stay shut is to use a chinstrap. This strap wraps around your head from under the chin to the top of the head, keeping your mouth shut. This solution can potentially be uncomfortable, but it can be worth the benefits of your CPAP machine.
You should never tape your lips shut while sleeping, as this has “the risk of vomiting, aspiration, and asphyxiation.” (8)
The Bottom Line: How to Sleep With a CPAP Mask On
Using a CPAP machine while you go to bed can be extremely difficult to adjust to.
However, the benefits are well worth the initial discomfort. Over time, the CPAP machine will help you become better rested, so long as you stick with it and incorporate some of the tips you found on this page.
But, if you find that you’ve tried everything, and you still can’t get the sleep you deserve, I’d recommend trying our #1 best CPAP mask of the year that we reviewed here at Sleep.FM to help solve your problem. That usually does the trick!
Or, you could try one of our best CPAP masks for side sleepers if that’s your preferred sleeping position — because ultimately, everyone deserves peaceful, rejuvenating, and uninterrupted nights of sleep every night.