CPAP Masks and Sleeping Positions: Finding the Right Match

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closeup of Caucasian male sleeping on side with view of back

A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask connects to a CPAP machine to flow air into your lungs while you’re sleeping. CPAP treatment is most commonly prescribed for those with obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous sleep disorder that causes breathing to stop during sleep. While CPAP has been proven effective, it can be hard for some people to get used to wearing a mask—or even the idea of wearing a mask. With so many varieties available today, the right one is likely out there.

3 Types of CPAP Masks

About 22 million people in the United States have sleep apnea, and a wide range of CPAP mask options have evolved to meet the need since they were first introduced in the 1980s. At a high level, there are three main types of CPAP masks. Small, lightweight nasal pillows rest on the nostrils and create a seal for airflow. Nasal CPAP masks cover the nose, extending from the bridge of the nose to the upper lip. Full face CPAP masks cover the nose, mouth, and all or part of the face, depending on the mask design. All masks have straps that go around the head to help keep them in place.

Your sleeping position is just one factor in considering the best mask for you. Some types flow air into your nose and mouth, and some only flow air to your nose which can be a problem for people who tend to breathe through their mouths when they sleep. The amount of air pressure the mask can handle is important, too. Work with your doctor to choose the best mask overall based on your treatment goals and medical history, including allergies that stuff up your nose. The right size, fit, and type of cushioning can also make or break how a CPAP mask feels.

CPAP Masks For a Better Sleep

Different types of masks tend to be more comfortable for different sleeping positions: If you sleep on your side, nasal pillows or a nasal CPAP mask may feel better than a more bulky full face CPAP mask. If you sleep on your back, a full face CPAP mask isn’t as likely to get in your way.  

Some nasal pillows and nasal CPAP masks can be adjusted for stomach sleeping with your head to the side. But you may find you switch to side sleeping naturally as part of your CPAP routine.

5 Things You Didn't Know About Sleep Apnea

You may also find you take your mask off in your sleep, particularly if you move around and switch positions a lot. This is perfectly normal, especially at first. If you continue to take your mask off often, consider adding a chin strap to help it stay on. You may also want to set you alarm to go off in the night so you can check that your mask is in place.

In choosing the right mask for your sleep style,  keep in mind that the structure of your face, tendency to feel claustrophobic, and even whether or not you have facial hair will affect the comfort level. Ask your doctor about participating in a sleep study where you can try out many types of masks in different sleeping positions while being monitored by experts.Once you’ve chosen a CPAP mask, give it some trial runs during the day to get a better idea of how it will feel at night. When you  begin your night-time regimen, stick with it to get the full benefit, even during naps and when you’re away from home. Keep in touch with your doctor as you go and check out online support groups for help with challenges. There are many ways to overcome them, and your sleep health is worth it. 

Benefits of CPAP Masks for Sleep Apnea

When CPAP masks are worn as recommended for six to eight hours each night, they promote better quality sleep, reduced snoring, and less daytime sleepiness. Many people feel a dramatic difference right away.  Others struggle to wear their masks even four hours a night, so they don’t get the same relief. Choosing a mask that fits your sleeping position goes a long way toward a faster payoff that keeps you committed.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Sep 28
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