How To Get Used To a CPAP Device

A continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP device is recognized as the best method for controlling obstructive sleep apnea. These devices work by delivering air under a set pressure to the nose and/or mouth during sleep and this pressurized air forces the air passage to remain open and unobstructed during sleep.

However, as this necessitates wearing a mask and tubing, it can be difficult to become accustomed to. Over time, a sleep apnea sufferer learns how to get used to a CPAP machine – but it takes patience.

Learning to sleep with the CPAP tubing, mask and the air pressure does take time as it will feel strange at first, but these early difficulties can be overcome more quickly by adopting some strategies that have proven successful for many.

Mask Issues

One of the most common difficulties CPAP device users report are issues with the mask. Too loose, too tight, uncomfortable and prone to slipping are all problems mask wearers regularly complain of -- but none of these issues should arise if the mask is properly fitted by a professional.

Choosing the right type of mask is essential and a lot depends on personal preference and how one sleeps.

Full Face. A full face mask covering both nose and mouth is ideal for people who breathe mainly through the mouth or shift a lot during sleep.

Nasal. Sleep apnea sufferers who breathe predominantly through the nose may be best suited by a smaller, less cumbersome nasal or nasal pillow mask which sits on top of the nostrils.

CPAP masks are manufactured in different sizes -- and it is important to select the one that best fits your face. Most masks are adjustable -- and making the best use of the available adjustments should not be left to trial and error. 

Consult your sleep consultant about any adjustments that should be made so the mask is as comfortable and effective as possible.

Another difficulty often encountered by new CPAP users is simply getting used to the constant stream of pressurized air. This can be a strange sensation initially but can be overcome. 

Some PAP devices come with a “ramp” feature which starts with a low pressure before gradually ramping up to the desired setting. Other CPAP devices (APAP, BPAP or bi-level positive airway pressure) automatically adjust the air pressure during sleep. Automatic Positive Airway Pressure devices adjust the air pressure depending on the stage of sleep one is in.  

During REM sleep, the body requires a higher pressure but during NREM sleep the required pressure is much lower. The bi-level devices deliver more pressure when inhaling and lower pressure during exhalation.


Using PAP devices can feel strange at first and learning how to get used to one is best done in stages. Strange as it may seem, the best way to become accustomed to the therapy is to practice using the device during the day:

  • Without connecting the mask, practice breathing normally into it for one minute.
  • Connect the mask to the CPAP device, turn the air supply on, and breathe normally through the mask for a minute or two.
  • Connect the mask to the required headgear and again practice breathing normally for a couple of minutes.
  • Take a short daytime nap while using the CPAP, APAP or bi-level device.

These exercises should be undertaken several times a day with the time being increased gradually up to thirty minutes or more. This will acclimatize the body to both wearing the equipment and breathing pressurized air normally. 

Over a period of weeks, with regular practice, sleeping with a mask and tubing should become familiar and any feelings of discomfort fade away.

Noise Levels

The latest CPAP devices are virtually silent -- but this may not always be the case if the machine is poorly maintained. Blocked air filters or damaged hoses can often produce unwanted noises in the motor and regular cleaning is required to avoid possible noise problems.

Machine maintenance should be carried out according to the manufacturer's instructions -- and worn parts replaced as necessary. If the noise level is still disrupting sleep, try wearing earplugs, using a white noise device, or simply moving the device as far from the bed as possible.


While many obstructive sleep apnea sufferers have little or no difficulty learning how to get used to a PAP device, others may struggle at first. Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes and patience is required in getting used to an entirely new sleeping routine.

PAP therapy is the most effective remedy for obstructive sleep apnea -- and a few days or weeks of discomfort is a small price to pay for the tremendous benefits that a PAP device can deliver. 

If, however, the discomfort continues, or the therapy is not working effectively, it is prudent to discuss any issues with both the manufacturer and the treating doctor or sleep specialist.