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Continuous positive air pressure machines, or CPAP machines, are widely used to treat sleep apnea, a medical condition that causes temporary loss of breath during the night. CPAP machines are electronic devices that draw in outside air using an internal fan, humidify the air and pressurize it, and then deliver it to users via a connective hose and breathing face mask. CPAP pressurizes air to one constant level, depending on the user’s prescription. The pressure rates are measured in centimeters of water, or cmH20; standard CPAP machines can pressurize air anywhere between 4 and 20 cmH20 in 1 or 0.5 increments. A physician’s prescription is always required to purchase a CPAP machine, as well as the breathing mask and humidifier components.
When shopping for a CPAP machine, buyers should consider several factors. Price-point is particularly important; while most CPAP machines cost at least $200, some models are priced higher than $800. Size and volume are other key variables, particularly for buyers who plan to travel with their CPAP machine. Other factors, which we will discuss below, include ramp time, humidifier capacity, and built-in features like sleep data tracking and preset alarms.
Read on to learn more about CPAP machines, including our choices for the five best CPAP machines sold today. Our picks are based on verified customer and owner experiences, as well as intensive product research and analysis.
The DreamStation CPAP Machine from Philips Respironics is our editor’s pick because it is stocked with helpful high-tech features. These include C-Flex Technology, which reduces pressure during expiration (exhalation) for more comfortable breathing. The machine is also Bluetooth-compatible and connects with DreamMapper, a wireless app used to track sleeping data. Data is displayed on the machine’s crisp LCD interface.
The DreamStation is also compact, lightweight, and relatively quiet, making it a good option for travelers with sleep apnea. Customers have the option of including a built-in humidifier with a 325-mL capacity, as well; a preheat function begins warming water in the chamber for up to half an hour in advance. Owners can customize the ramp time to anywhere from five to 45 minutes for added convenience. The Philips Respironics DreamStation is backed by a two-year warranty.
Sleep data trackers
Those who experience pressure discomfort during exhalation
The RESmart Auto CPAP machine from 3B Medical is our best value pick because it offers the same helpful features and pressure relief as other CPAP devices, but its price-point – $300 to $350 through most retailers – is well below the cost of an average CPAP machine. The RESmart is also a good option for sleepers who like to track CPAP data. Available metrics include CPAP therapy duration, apnea episodes, and a snore index; the device stores data for up to 365 days, as well.
The RESmart features RESlex, a built-in pressure relief system to alleviate discomfort during expiration and promote easy breathing. The machine is also suitable for travel, since it is lightweight, compact, and designed to automatically adjust to different altitudes. The integrated humidifier can be programmed to five different heat settings, as well. The RESmart from 3B Medical is backed by a two-year warranty.
Apex XT Fit – Best CPAP Machine for Travel (Standard Size)
Backlit, easy-to-read display
Universal AC power compatibility
Very lightweight and compact
Many people with sleep apnea prefer to travel with mini-CPAP machines, which provide the same relief as standard machines. However, travel-size CPAP devices typically cost hundreds of dollars – and many with sleep apnea would rather not invest more money in another machine. The XT Fit from Apex is a good solution for these shoppers. This machine is light, compact, and very quiet (28 dB). It also delivers most pressure settings at a maximum altitude of 8,000 feet and is compatible with all levels of AC power (an adapter is needed). All of these components make the XT Fit the best standard-size CPAP machine for travel.
For extra convenience, the ramp time for the XT Fit is programmable in five-minute increments from five to 45 minutes. Buyers have the option of including an integrated humidifier that holds up to 300 mL of water. The machine also features a clean, backlit interface that clearly displays sleep tracking data, making it easy to read in low light settings. The XT Fit from Apex is normally sold at a below-average price-point and is backed by a 2-year warranty.
The AirSense 10 Elite from ResMed is one of the most high-tech CPAP machines on the market today. Included with the machine is full humidifier customization, allowing owners to choose from eight different humidification levels. In addition to adjustable ramp time, the machine has an ‘auto-ramp’ feature that starts pressurizing air when it senses the owner is sleeping. The machine also has a mask fit sensor indicating when the user’s mask is sufficiently sealed, which can help prevent air leaks.
Owners can track apnea episodes per hour, leak rates, and other sleep data using a clear, colored LCD interface that automatically adjusts its tint based on the room’s light settings. Another beneficial feature is the Expiratory Pressure Relief (EPR), which reduces pressure and eases breathing during exhalation. The AirSense 10 Elite has an above-average price-point, making it a good option for shoppers with bigger budgets. The machine comes backed with a two-year warranty.
The ICON Premo CPAP machine from Fisher & Paykel features several components that make it easier and more convenient to use than other machines. For example, its built-in humidifier holds 420 mL of water, giving it a much higher-than-average capacity. A ramp time preset, which lasts 20 minutes total, also gives owner the option of starting their machine as they wind down for bed. Other helpful functions include an integrated alarm clock, SmartStick Studio software that allows users to download and program songs, and automatic altitude adjustment.
Owners can track leak rates, apnea episodes per hour, and other sleep data using the InfoSmart interface. The SmartStick also connects directly to USB ports. Another useful component is the ThermoSmart Heated Hose, which is lined with copper coils to provide comfortable heating and reduce condensation. The ICON Premo is backed by a two-year warranty.
Positive air pressure therapy, or PAP therapy, is a process for delivering airflow through a ventilation system to individuals who have a hard time breathing on their own. PAP therapy is delivered in one of two forms. Continuous positive air pressure, or CPAP, provides airflow at a fixed pressure rate; and bi-level positive air pressure, or BiPAP, delivers airflow at a variable pressure rate based on the user’s breathing patterns. PAP machines feature a generator attached to a humidifier that pressurizes the air, and a connective hose that links the generator to a mask placed over the user’s nose and/or mouth.
PAP therapy can be a highly effective treatment for people with sleep apnea; CPAP is normally reserved for people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), while BiPAP works best for people with central sleep apnea (CSA). This CPAP machine guide includes shopping considerations, our picks for the top CPAP models, and some additional strategies for people with OSA. First, let’s explore how CPAP machines work.
|What Does a CPAP Machine Do?|
CPAP machines are considered the most effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is caused by partial or complete physical obstructions that block an individual’s airway. These obstructions lead to shallow breathing episodes throughout the night that can result in temporary loss of breath until the episode passes. Most shallow breathing episodes for people with OSA last 20 to 40 seconds, but more than 100 may occur over the course of a single night. Heavy snoring is a common symptom of OSA.
The other common type of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea (CSA), occurs when the brain cannot transmit proper signals to muscles that control breathing; there is no physical obstruction that affects breathing. However, CPAP machines are not as effective at treating CSA because they do not provide variable air pressure.
The table below details the key differences between CPAP and BiPAP machines.
Type of Apnea Targeted
Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP)
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
Pressure increases until it reaches prescribed rate
$200 to $800
Bi-level positive air pressure (BiPAP)
Central sleep apnea (CSA)
Pressure increases or decreases at variable rates, depending on the user’s breathing
$800 to $1,700
CPAP machines operate using the same core components:
Airflow generator: The generator is housed in a small box that includes a motorized fan. The generator will pull in air from the room, pressurize it, and deliver it to the user through the mask.
Connective hose: This component links the generator to the face mask. Most hoses measure up three to six feet in length, depending on the model.
Humidifier: CPAP machines may feature a built-in or detachable humidifier. This component warms water that is used to humidify the air before it is delivered through the face mask.
Filter: To prevent dust and other allergens from contaminating the air, CPAP machines feature an air intake filter that can usually be replaced as needed.
Another key component is the mask, which is sold separately from the machine itself. Masks are sold in different shapes and styles to accommodate different user preferences. Any style of mask can be used with a modern CPAP machine, provided the connective hose is compatible. Generally speaking, four primary types of mask are available:
Full face: This mask fits snugly around the nose and mouth, and is designed for people who sleep with their mouths open.
Nasal: This mask features a smaller design that fits snugly over the nose, but not the mouth. Nasal masks are ideal for people who breathe through their nose while sleeping.
Nasal cradle: These masks fit beneath the nose, delivering oxygen to both nostrils without fitting over the bridge of the nose.
Nasal pillow: The least invasive mask option, nasal pillow masks form a seal around each nostril without coming into contact with the upper nose or mouth.
To properly use a CPAP machine, follow this step-by-step process.
Place the machine on a level surface where it isn’t at risk of falling or moving during the night.
Plug the machine into a wall outlet.
If available, insert the chamber humidifier filled with distilled water.
Secure the connective hose that links the generator and the face mask.
Put on the mask and adjust it to a comfortable setting.
Turn on the machine.
Adjust settings as needed during the night.
The output of a CPAP machine is usually measured in centimeters of water (or cmH20). Most sleep apnea patients require an airflow of at least 6 to 14 cm420, and CPAP machines usually deliver at least 4 to 20 cmH20. To determine how much is needed, apnea patients will typically undergo a sleep study before a CPAP machine is prescribed. It’s important to note that a prescription is required for all CPAP machines.
|Pros and Cons of Using a CPAP Machine|
Benefits of using a CPAP machine for obstructive sleep apnea include the following:
Effective treatment: CPAP machines will not cure sleep apnea — at this time, no cure is available — but these devices are considered the most effective treatment method for people with this condition.
Easy to use: Even with new and advanced CPAP models, these machines are fairly user-friendly and should not present much difficulty in terms of operating and troubleshooting.
Light and portable: Most CPAP machines weigh less than five pounds, and will easily fit into a suitcase or carry-on for convenient travel use.
Wide availability: There is a wide range of CPAP machines available today, including different functions and price-points.
Downsides of using a CPAP machine may include the following:
Noise potential: CPAP machines can be quite noisy. This can disrupt sleep for the user, as well as their sleep partner and — in some cases — people who sleep in adjoining rooms. Some newer models are designed with quieter motors, but noise potential for most PAP machines is fairly high.
Physical discomfort: PAP masks may cause soreness and stuffiness in the nose, as well as eye irritation.
Restricted sleep mobility: Due to the connective hose, people who tend to toss and turn while they sleep may find their CPAP machine restrictive. A longer connective hose is recommended for these individuals.
High price: Although they are usually cheaper than BiPAP machines, most CPAP machines cost at least $200 — and some models are priced at $800 or higher.
|Considerations for CPAP Machine Shoppers|
Type of sleep apnea: The choice between a CPAP or BiPAP machine is largely determined by the patient’s type of sleep apnea; CPAP is normally prescribed for OSA, while BiPAP is more suitable for CSA. However, BiPAP may be used to treat OSA if CPAP therapy has failed.
Price: The price of a new CPAP machine typically falls between $200 and $800. BiPAP machines tend to be more expensive than CPAP models.
Size and weight: Most CPAP machines are fairly compact, but some are larger than others — and users with limited bedroom space may wish to select a smaller model. Lighter machines are also more suitable for long-distance travel. Most CPAP machines come with a carrying case of some kind, regardless of size.
Operating pressure range: Apnea patients usually require airflow that falls between 6 and 14 cmH20. Most CPAP machines are designed to deliver an airflow of anywhere from 4 to 20 cmH20. That being said, purchasers should research the operating pressure range to determine if the device will meet their individual needs.
Ramp time: ‘Ramp time’ refers to the amount of time needed to reach the prescribed operating pressure after the PAP machine is turned on. Ramp time for most CPAP machines typically falls within 30 to 60 minutes.
Humidifier: Some PAP machines have built-in humidifiers that require owners to pour in water, while others have detachable humidifiers that can be removed from the machine and filled with water. Humidifier capacity is another important consideration, since larger humidifiers that hold more water may operate longer than those with smaller humidifiers.
Volume: CPAP machines almost always produce some noise, but certain models are quieter than others. Volume for CPAP machines is measured in a-weight decibels, or dbAs, which are used to express the relative loudness of air-based sounds.
Hose length: Most connective hoses that link CPAP machines to face masks are at least six feet in length, but users who are unable to set up their machine next to their bed may want a hose that measures even longer.
Power Source: Most CPAP machines operate on a voltage range of 100 to 240V AC. The power input requirements will be included in the product specs.
Operating altitude: CPAP machines are normally designed to properly function at certain altitudes; exceeding this altitude will compromise the delivery of properly pressurized air. This information is usually included in the product specifications.
Automatic controls: In addition to automatic on and off controls, some CPAP machines will adjust to the user’s shifting breathing patterns, as well as changes in altitude (which can affect the amount of pressure needed).
Alerts: Some CPAP machines will alert users if the pressure is turned off (due to issues such as power outage or dead batteries), if the mask leaves the user’s face, or if a leak develops in the connective hose. These alerts may take the form of audible alarms and/or LCD backlighting.
Sleep data: Like many electronic devices manufactured today, some CPAP machines are equipped with smart technology that monitors sleep patterns in users and provides readable data. This data may include how much pressure (in cmH20) is delivered each night, how long the machine is used, and how many days the owner has used the machine per week or month. CPAP machines may display this data on a built-in screen or via a mobile app.
Warranty: In most cases, a CPAP machine will come with a warranty that covers the product for two to five years, depending on the manufacturer.
|Additional Accessories and Sleep Strategies for People with Sleep Apnea|
If a CPAP machine does not treat a patient’s sleep apnea or proves insufficient, people with OSA or CSA may be able to reduce their nighttime sleep disruption through the following means.
Non-mask devices: CPAP machines may not be suitable for certain users due to factors like sound volume, size, or price-point. In these cases, individuals may want to seek out simpler devices. One potential alternative is Provent, a sleep apnea treatment method developed at Stanford University. Provent does not utilize a generator or a mask. Instead, it features two small, disposable devices equipped with air filters that fit into both nostrils.
Provent is FDA-approved and clinically proven; apnea patients who are interested in Provent or other alternative apnea treatments should consult their physician.
Optimal pillow loft: Many people with sleep apnea — particularly those with OSA — are more susceptible to snoring when they sleep on their backs with their head at an elevated position. For this reason, people with sleep apnea are often encouraged to sleep on their sides, but this may not be suitable for certain individuals. Those who wish to continue sleeping on their backs may be able to reduce snoring by optimizing their pillow ‘loft,’ or thickness.
‘High-loft’ pillows are thicker than five inches (5″), ‘medium-loft’ pillows are three to five inches (3″ to 5″) thick, and low-loft pillows are thinner than three inches (3″). When determining the best pillow loft, it’s important to consider the following factors:
Head size: People with relatively large heads typically prefer high-loft pillows that provide adequate cushioning and support. Those with relatively small heads may feel more comfortable on medium- or low-loft pillows.
Body weight: Lower-loft pillows are usually more suitable for heavier people because they sink more deeply into the mattress and require less space between the mattress and their head. Likewise, lighter individuals may feel more comfortable using higher-loft pillows because they do not sink as deeply.
Shoulder length: People with broad shoulders often need higher-loft pillows because there is more space between their head and the mattress, while those with narrower shoulders may prefer lower-loft pillows instead.
Mattress firmness: Low-loft pillows are most effective on softer mattresses because they create less of a buffer between the sleeper’s head and the mattress, while high-loft pillows provide more cushioning and support when used with a firmer mattress.
The table below provides a detailed breakdown of the three general pillow loft categories.
Adjustable Bed: Adjustable beds allow sleepers to adjust the angle of their sleep surface at the head and, in some cases, the feet as well. As is the case with optimal pillow loft, inclining the head at the right angle can help reduce snoring in people with sleep apnea. Additionally, some adjustable beds come with dedicated ‘anti-snore’ presets.
An adjustable bed may have manual, remote, or app-based controls. Most adjustable beds support anywhere between 600 and 800 pounds, making them suitable for most adults and their sleep partners. Models with dual-firmness may be most suitable for couples that have different firmness preferences.
Most adjustable beds cost at least $1,000, and some are priced at $3,000 or higher. For more information, please visit our Adjustable Bed Reviews page.