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How to Use a CPAP Machine

Updated November 1, 2019

Short for “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure”, the CPAP machine helps you with sleep therapy for those in need. It’s a device useful for people who have sleep apnea and were given medical prescriptions to purchase such a product. While sleeping with a device attached to your face sound intimidating, there’s nothing too complicated about using a CPAP machine.

What You Will Need

Naturally, you will need a CPAP machine, a very efficient device for people who suffer from sleep apnea or insomnia caused by apnea. CPAP machines are products that require a medical prescription because this isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of product. 

Depending on your budget and preferences, you may need a CPAP machine which also includes:

  • A system for gathering your sleep data. These machines will pick up important information about your sleep, like apnea events, or how long you’ve slept. This information can be very useful for your doctor, in order to know more about the way you sleep.
  • A ramp-up feature. This automatically adjusts the pressure by gradually increasing it, so that you can adjust to the device and breathe comfortably.
  • Low noise levels. The best machines will not produce more than 30 dB worth of noise, because otherwise, they would keep you up at night.
  • A humidifier. This is probably one of those items that you didn’t know you need it until you’ve actually tried it. It’s very common for sleepers to end up with dry mouth and a dry nose, in which case a humidifier can go a long way in helping you sleep comfortably.
  • A hose and a face mask. These accessories are typically sold together with the CPAP machine, but you may purchase them separately as well.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

Once you’ve established which CPAP machine would be the best option, it’s time to know what the general instructions are to follow when you’re ready to start using it. Please note that our listed steps are generic, but there are particular scenarios and special cases where the following guidelines do not apply. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the most detailed and personalized information.

Step 1: The Filters

The first step is putting that CPAP machine to good use is setting up the filter:

  • If your machine has a reusable foam filter, its place is most likely at the CPAP machine’s air intake.
  • If your machine has a disposable filter (which means it’s probably made from paper), then make sure you place this filter inside the machine, and then place the foam filter on the outside.
  • If you have a bacteria filter, but also a humidifier, the filter does at the humidifier’s air outtake. Alternatively, if there’s no humidifier, you will place the filter at the CPAP machine’s air outtake.
  • If you’re using both a bacteria filter, as well as a heated tube, the filter goes between the mask and the hose.

Step 2: The Hose & The Mask

If you have considered the use of a CPAP machine, or are new to the use of one, this article explores CPAP machine side effects and dangerous worth noting.

  • For starters, your hose can either go into the humidifier, or the CPAP machine itself. This depends on the course of treatment that you’re following for your sleep apnea.
  • You will have to see if you have a slim or a standard hose. A slim hose generally has a 15mm diameter, but your CPAP machine needs to have a setting that’s compatible with this size. If not, you will need a hose adaptor.
  • The other end of the hose is attached to your mask. This shouldn’t be a problem, as most hoses come with a standard 22mm connection cuff so that they may be attached to the mask. If you can’t connect the hose to the mask, check if there’s any swivel preventing the connection.
  • Those of you that used a hard-cuffed hose may need to use a flexitube adapted to make a snug connection.

NOTE: The AirMini is an exception to the hose-mask rule because it needs a special elbow to connect the ResMed masks to the hose.

Step 3: Wearing the Mask

couple laying in bed with sleep masks on

  • Even if you’ve chosen the best mask for your face and your sleeping position, you will have to make some adjustments for the best possible fit. You can start by sitting on the edge of the bed, and putting on the mask while the straps are somewhat loose.
  • Lie in your bed, as if you were getting ready to sleep.
  • Pull the straps of the mask slowly, until you feel the mask is fit on both sides of your face, but without them being too tight.

Step 4: The Humidifier

Humidifier

While typically considered an optional piece of equipment, the humidifier is absolutely necessary for some. Much like a regular room humidifier, the point of this addon is to add moisture to the air that you breathe, to prevent problems such as a dry mouth or nose.

  • To set up your humidifier, look for the line that’s marked on your water chamber. This is how much water you’ll have to add inside the chamber. Always make sure that you use distilled water because tap water will leave residue on the bottom of the chamber, which is quite difficult to remove. If you’ve ever had a room humidifier, you know that this is pretty much the standard rule.

TIP: When you clean the water chamber, it’s best if you use vinegar because the soap and water combination doesn’t do such a good job in removing the chalky film deposits.

Step 5: Activating the Machine

When all the pieces are in place, it’s time to start using your CPAP machine.

  • Make sure that your machine is close enough to the bed as not to have the length of the hose limit your mobility while you sleep, but also far enough to prevent any noises from waking you up.
  • Place the machine on a flat and stable surface that’s close to the bed, while making sure it has 12 inches of space in any given direction, to make sure it’s properly ventilated.
  • Plugin your CPAP machine directly into the outlet, and try to avoid the use of an extension cord. If there is no power outlet nearby, try to use a heavy-duty extension cord, because the CPAP machine can be very power-consuming.
  • Wash your face before you go to bed (we’ll explain later in this article why this is important for a good mask fit).
  • When you’re ready to go to bed, place the CPAP mask on your face and tighten the straps so that the mask rests comfortably on your face, as you’ve practiced before.

  • Lie down and turn on your CPAP machine.
  • Once the unit is turned on, you will feel the pressure starts to rise, which is very normal. Try to relax and breathe evenly as this happens.
  • If you feel that the pressure is very high and it’s preventing you from breathing normally, you might need to change the ramp settings. The ramp feature of a CPAP machine makes the unit starts off with a low-pressure setting, while gradually increasing until it reaches the ideal pressure you feel most comfortable with. However, this is not a feature present in all CPAP machines, so you’ll have to plan ahead and consider whether this is a feature you’d like to have.

Additional Tips

Now that you’ve learned how to use a CPAP machine, we’ve got a couple of tips that will help you get the best out of this seemingly unpleasant experience.

  • A CPAP pillow can be a very useful accessory for those using a CPAP machine. That’s because certain CPAP mask models make it very difficult to sleep in your favorite position because of the front face bulkiness. A CPAP pillow features special cutouts that will help you wear that mask comfortably.
  • Always wash your face before putting on the mask. This helps the mask get a better seal, but also tones down on that unpleasant experience of wearing the mask itself. The human face has plenty of natural oils that prevent getting a good seal, but also may cause you to feel uncomfortable when wearing the mask.
  • If you’re worried about setting up the machine to the correct pressure, don’t be. Generally speaking, CPAP machines are already shipped with the right pressure setting, as this is prescription-based information.
  • Using a CPAP machine with a humidifier can make your experience so much better. You will wake up feeling way better in the morning as you’ll be avoiding one of the main problems of sleeping with a CPAP mask: dry mouth and sinuses.
  • Keep in mind that when you order your CPAP mask, you’re following the guidelines to pick one for your sleeping position. There are also rules that will help you choose a mask that comfortable for your face, and that fits snuggly without being too tight or falling off.

Bottom Line

Learning how to use a CPAP machine isn’t very difficult, not if you turn to tips and tricks that will help you get a better fit. If needed, practice wearing the mask before you actually use the machine itself, to get acquainted with how the material feels.

Don’t be afraid to invest in additional accessories that will increase your comfort. The CPAP pillow is specially created for making sleeping with a mask more comfortable, while a humidifier can prevent dry mouth and nose.