Do CPAP machines work?

Health & Wellness

A: TL; DR. Yes! CPAP machines are devices that help patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) by preventing the collapse of the airway during sleep. If you have concerns about your sleep health, talk to your doctor.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common (and treatable) sleep-related breathing disorder with prevalence rates around 15% for males and 5% for females for moderate or severe sleep apnea. Prevalence also varies by race/ethnicity, age, and obesity. Symptoms include daytime sleepiness, irritability, snoring, gasping during sleep, and morning headaches. In addition to the daily effects of OSA, sleep apnea is linked to subsequent cognitive decline, metabolic syndrome, liver problems, and heart disease.

For people with moderate or more severe sleep apnea, the most effective treatment is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy. The CPAP machine works by pushing air through a face mask worn by the patient, and the continuous flow of air helps keep the airways open. One recent National Geographic article quoted sleep medicine doctor, David Kuhlmann, MD, celebrating its invention. “The person who invented the CPAP deserves the Nobel Prize because I can’t think of many other people who have changed the course of history more than that person.” More than 8 million Americans use CPAP machines, including President Biden who started using a CPAP machine in June 2023.

Some of the widely observed (and often immediate) benefits of treating sleep apnea through CPAP therapy include better sleep, less snoring, reduced daytime sleepiness, increased alertness, and even lower blood pressure. Several studies have found that treating sleep apnea with CPAP can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in addition to a reduced risk of heart disease.

While the evidence is strong that CPAP is an effective medical device, it may not be appropriate for everyone. CPAP machines work better with consistent use throughout the sleeping period, and adherence is often a constraint. For personal medical advice regarding CPAP or any other issue related to your sleep health, please talk with your doctor or a sleep medicine specialist.

For more reading about sleep apnea:

AHA: Sleep Apnea and Heart Health

UpToDate: Clinical presentation and diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea in adults

CNN article on President Biden (with brief video on OSA and CPAP)

Troubleshooting CPAP Adherence

National Geographic article (behind paywall)

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