What is a CPAP machine and how does it work?

September 23, 2020 3 mins read
What is a CPAP machine and how does it work?

A continuous positive airway therapy (CPAP) machine is an innovative device that makes breathing during sleep easier. It could be your key to unlocking a good night’s rest!

Here’s everything you need to know about CPAP machines – why you need one, where you can get it, and how to set it up.

What is CPAP therapy?

Thirty-nine years ago, Australian physician and inventor, Dr Colin Sullivan developed a cutting edge treatment to help people with sleep apnea breathe easier in their sleep.

He designed the CPAP machine, which works by applying mild pressure to your airways through a mask to relieve the pressure caused by air blockages in the nose and throat. CPAP therapy can even help babies with sleep apnea get better sleep.

If you’re struggling to sleep at night because of obstructive sleep apnea or chronic snoring, your GP may prescribe sleeping with a CPAP machine, which you can get through the National Health Service or purchase one online.

How do CPAP machines work?

CPAP machines work by delivering gently pressurised air into your airways through a hose that is attached to a mask. The air that you inhale is meant to soothe your respiratory system so you can breathe easier and enjoy a restful sleep.

Confused? Don’t be, it’s actually quite a simple process.

Air pressure

A CPAP machine circulates filtered, pressurised air into your nose and mouth, keeping your airways open so that you can breathe easier. Your doctor will specify the air pressure setting.

Air seal

The CPAP machine mask that you wear during your sleep creates an air seal, which stops any air from escaping. You can test the air seal before buying the CPAP machine to make sure it is firm and working properly.


Attached to the machine is a long, lightweight hose, which circulates the air. Don’t worry, it’s long enough for you to comfortably move around while you sleep.


Built into the machine is a humidification chamber. Water is warmed to humidify the pressurised air before it circulates through the tubes and into the mask. The humidified air provides relief, easing any discomfort and swelling in the nose and mouth.

What are the side effects of using a CPAP machine?

There are times when you might experience some discomfort. These side effects are typically easy to treat but if you’re worried, your doctor will be able to help.

  • Dry mouth
  • A bloated stomach
  • Congestion of the nose, a runny nose or nose bleeds
  • Feeling cramped because of the face mask
  • Chest discomfort
  • Sores and irritation over the nose

Getting used to sleeping with a CPAP machine

It might feel like your sleeping life has taken a sharp 180-degree turn but there are things you can do to transition into sleeping with a CPAP machine.

Place the CPAP machine close to your bed. Make sure the hose (which is quite long) is attached to both the machine and the face mask. As you switch the machine on, pressurised air begins to circulate. It can take some getting used to, but the benefits of uninterrupted sleep certainly outweigh any initial mild discomfort.

  • Give yourself time to adjust, after a few nights it will become normal for you as the quality of your sleep improves.
  • Wear the mask before bed to get a sense of how it will feel and to practise breathing.
  • Use your CPAP machine when you take a nap during the day to help you get used to sleeping with it.
  • To ease yourself into sleeping with the mask on, try relaxation techniques like meditation, breathing deeply and using essential oils for aromatherapy to help you feel calm.

In no time, you’ll become a pro at using a CPAP machine and falling asleep with it will be a breeze (at the ideal air pressure level, of course)!