CPAP vs BiPAP for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder which, left untreated, can be the cause of some very difficult and even life-threatening health problems. The good news for people who suffer from sleep apnea is that a combination of healthy lifestyle changes and air pressure machine treatment can result in the restoration of health and relief of symptoms.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by the physical blockage of the airway that causes breathing passages to be closed up while sleeping. This can be particularly risky for people with large neck and those who are carrying extra weight as that can cause the airways to collapse in on themselves and close up.

Sleep apnea limits breathing at night, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the body and brain, bringing on various symptoms and signs including:

  • Loud snoring
  • Poor restorative sleep patterns
  • Waking up in the night with gasping or choking
  • Headaches upon waking
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Sleepiness while driving or other activities
  • Mood changes, depression, irritability
  • Foggy brain and forgetfulness
  • Insomnia or recurrent awakening
  • Sore throat or dry throat upon waking

Some people with mild cases of sleep apnea are able to manage their condition with some healthy lifestyle changes including weight loss and changing from sleeping on their backs to their sides. Other people are in need of more intentional treatment that includes a machine that can keep their airways open and help them breathe while they are sleeping. These machines are either CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) or BiPAP (Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure).

What is CPAP?

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is the most popular and prescribed treatment for people who suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). The machine generates air pressure which is delivered through a tube into a mask. The mask fits over the mouth or nose (or both) and allows the airways to remain open while the person is sleeping.

What is BiPAP?

Two-level or Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) is similar to CPAP in that air a mask is placed on the face of the person and a machine is used to send positive air pressure through it into the nose. BiPAP delivers inhale pressure as well as exhale pressure, allowing the body even more assistance in breathing at night. The BiPAP machine is trademarked by Respironics.

Which is better—CPAP or BiPAP?

CPAP and BiPAP machines are different, and this means that they are often used for different purposes. The pressure on BiPAP and CPAP machines is adjustable, and the air may be modified in order to make the delivery of air more comfortable to the person who is receiving the treatment. The physician or sleep specialist who assigns the treatment will offer advice on the needs of the airflow, depending on the severity of the person’s sleep apnea.

Typically a doctor will recommend the CPAP machine to a sleep apnea patient at first, partly because the cost of it is lower. But sometimes CPAP machines can be uncomfortable or not as effective for some patients, in which case BiPAP is often used. This is often because patients who need their air flow set to a higher pressure may find that using a CPAP machine makes exhaling uncomfortable, as the air is constantly flowing into the airways.

BiPAP machine are also set up so that, when the person who is using the machine doesn’t breathe for a certain period of time, the machine automatically delivers a breath. Settings can be placed for a minimum number of Breaths per Minute (BPM), making sure that the person breathes enough, as well as decreasing the amount of energy that is needed for exhaling.

BiPAP machines may also be used for those who have lung (pulmonary) conditions, such as COPD, so that extra Carbon Dioxide (CO2) can be better eliminated from the body. Patients who suffer from neuromuscular disorders may also benefit from the benefits of using a device with Bi-level pressure that delivers for inhaling and exhaling.

From a standpoint of looking at them, CPAP and BiPAP machines look very similar, with the same attachments including hoses, filters, masks, and humidifiers. Both types of machines now come in versions that are portable so that people can transport them for easy use during travel.

How to Sleep Comfortably with CPAP or BiPAP

People with sleep apnea who make use of CPAP and BiPAP machines often find that sleeping with a mask attached to a machine by a tube can be a bit uncomfortable at first. This is especially because it is recommended that people who suffer from sleep apnea avoid sleeping on their backs, instead trying to sleep on their sides or stomachs instead.

One help available for sleeping with a BiPAP or CPAP can be the purchase of a specialized pillow that is made specifically for use with these machines. These pillows are often made from memory foam for a more comfortable head positioning, and have notches so that the straps and tubes can be set in place without moving.

Another way to assure more comfortable sleep positioning with a CPAP or BiPAP machine is by purchasing an adjustable mattress. Since gravity is often the reason for the closing of the airways, sleeping in a position other than flat on the back is critical. An adjustable mattress allows you to adjust your sleep positioning so that your airways are less likely to be blocked. This not only allows you to sleep more comfortably, but also makes the machine more effective, allowing your body to breathe more readily on its own. This may mean that you can set your BiPAP or CPAP machine to a lower pressure, which is better for your overall health.


Sleep apnea is a condition that can be dangerous to your health, but the good news is that there are many treatment options available. Of course, if you suspect that you have sleep apnea, the first step is to see your doctor and get a diagnosis from a sleep specialist. A diagnosis doesn’t have to be scary if you are able to access the treatment you need and move in the direction of a healthier, well-rested you.

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