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So your doctor wants you on a CPAP machine to help your sleep apnea. You might worry you’ll be tied to a noisy gadget all night with tubes there, a mask here, and straps going every which way.

It might seem overwhelming. But really, it’s not that bad. And it could change your life.

“We work very hard to try to get people to be more open to the idea,” says David Rapoport, MD, the director of research at the NYU Sleep Disorders Program. “What’s remarkable is, when they try it, they often say, ‘That’s not so bad.’”

There may be some hurdles at first, but they don’t have to be deal-breakers. Once you know what to do, you can sleep well with a CPAP machine.

Get to Know Your Gear

CPAP is short for “continuous positive airway pressure.” When you're one of the estimated 22 million people in the U.S. with sleep apnea, you can stop breathing, briefly, up to 30 times an hour when your airways close or get blocked. The CPAP machine pushes air into your nasal passages to keep them open. 

The machine has a pump that controls the airflow, a tube that carries the air from the machine to you, and a mask that goes over your mouth, nose, or both.

Some things about it may take some getting used to:

Masks and straps: If you’ve never slept with something on your face, it’ll probably take some time for you to wear the CPAP mask without thinking about it.

Most modern masks fall in one of three groups:

  • A nasal mask that goes over your nose
  • A "nasal pillow mask" that fits under your nose
  • A full mask, which covers your mouth and nose

Among those three main types, there are other variations, including:

  • Full-face masks that go over your eyes as well
  • Nose masks with prongs that go into your nose

Some online stores carry these types of gear.

As long as the mask is sealed enough so that the air pressure from the tube stays constant, the CPAP will do its job. It’s up to you to find out which mask is most comfortable, and which straps are best to hold it in place. You may have to try a few different types before you find one you like.