CPAP and BiPAP: Which One is Best For You?

Written by

Rebecca Levi , Staff Writer, Sleep Health
Our Editorial Process
Our editorial process includes extensive measures to verify accuracy, provide clarity on complex topics, and present factual information. Read more
Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to include the latest research, expand coverage, and add new information as it becomes available.

CPAP and BiPAP are the most popular sleep apnea treatments that offer the potential of a rapid solution to pauses in breathing during sleep (also known as sleep apnea). If you have sleep apnea, it is likely that your physician has discussed one or both of these sleep apnea treatments. Many patients wonder if one is better than the other. Find out the differences between BiPAP and CPAP and which one is best for you by taking a look through the information below.

What You Should Know About CPAP

What is CPAP?

CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. It is the most popular sleep apnea treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It uses air pressure generated by a machine, delivered through a tube into a mask that fits over the nose or mouth.

How Does It Work?

CPAP therapy uses a CPAP machine designed to deliver air pressure through the nostrils into the back of the throat in order to keep the airway open. The pressure is adjustable. There are several potential modifications to the way the air can be delivered in order to keep the airway open during sleep.

Who Uses It?

CPAP therapy is used amongst people with severe breathing problems during sleep. It is the most recommended sleep apnea treatment for patients who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea because they are unable to receive enough air to their lungs. In addition to adults, this sleep apnea treatment is used for infants as well. Infants whose lungs have not fully developed will be placed on CPAP therapy in order to have air blown into their lungs.

How Big Are CPAP Machines?

Not all CPAP machines are the same size or weight. Each product varies, but generally, they are fairly small and portable. Choosing which size is right for you depends on where you’ll be using it. If you’ll only be using it at home, a bigger CPAP machine may be doable. If you plan on traveling with it, purchase a more compact option.

What You Should Know About BiPAP

What is BiPAP?

BiPAP refers to Bilevel or two-level Positive Airway Pressure. Like CPAP, this sleep apnea treatment works by sending air through a tube into a mask that fits over the nose. While CPAP generally delivers a single pressure, BiPAP delivers two: an inhale pressure and an exhale pressure. These two pressures are known as inhalation positive airway pressure (IPAP) and exhalation positive airway pressure (EPAP).

How Does It Work?

The BiPAP machine usually has two settings and the effort when inhaling and exhaling is monitored. When the person sleeping doesn’t breathe for a programmed period of time, the BiPAP may be set to deliver a breath. This is usually set as a minimum breath or ‘back-up rate’ that sets a minimum breaths per minute (BPM). This setting is designed so that the patient breathes a set frequency of breaths per minute.

Who Uses It?

This sleep apnea treatment is often used with individuals who need extra respiratory support. It is often prescribed for patients with congestive heart failure/coronary artery disease and pulmonary or neurologic medical disorders. Patients with neuromuscular disorders may also benefit from the pressure differential of a BiPAP device.

How Big Are BiPAP Machines?

New BiPAP machines are similar in size to CPAP devices, which is about the size of a lunchbox. They’re designed to be silent so as not to interrupt the sleeper. Most BiPAP units offer a humidifier option to prevent the drying of the mucosal membranes.

CPAP or BiPAP: Which One is Better?

CPAP and BiPAP machines look similar, have the same attachments, and both use the same CPAP mask and supplies. However, each sleep apnea treatment is used for a special purpose and has its own advantages. CPAP machines are primarily used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, while BiPAP machines are used to treat central sleep apnea, complex sleep apnea, or COPD.

As far as cost, BiPAP historically has been more expensive than CPAP which may sway consumers whose sleep apnea can be treated with either.

The comfort and liking of each machine depends on the individual, but generally, BiPAP is often used when CPAP is not tolerated by the user. One of the many advantages of the BiPAP machine is that the strain is decreased during expiration. This limits the amount of energy expended during exhalation. In other words, it is easier to breathe out with BiPAP than with CPAP.

For those that haven’t preferred CPAP in the past, a second try might be worth it because there are new technologies that increase comfort with CPAP.

If CPAP and BiPAP aren’t the right sleep apnea treatments for you, there are other types of ventilatory support devices, including Adaptive Servo Ventilation (ASV).

Where do I buy a CPAP or BiPAP machine?

Even though you will need to have a doctor’s prescription to buy a CPAP or BiPAP machine, these can now be easily and safely purchased on line.   If you prefer to purchase in person, search for Durable Medical Equipment on Google maps.

Summary

CPAP and BiPAP therapies are two of the most popular sleep apnea treatments you can use to relieve symptoms. Each has its own purpose and benefits, but they only work when used for the proper condition. Consult your doctor and know the details of your specific type of sleep apnea before choosing a therapy.

About The Author

Rebecca Levi

Staff Writer, Sleep Health

With a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Indiana University Bloomington, Rebecca enjoys making accurate, up-to-date health information accessible to all readers. As a freelance writer and editor, she has covered everything from healthcare and experimental music to education. Rebecca lives in Tennessee, where she spends her free time reading, writing fiction, and making music.

  • Position: Side Sleeper
  • Temperature: Cold Sleeper
  • Chronotype: Dolphin

Thanks for the feedback!

Feedback like yours helps us make The Sleep Doctor the most helpful site it can be.

Submitting your Answer...