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Can You Use CPAP While Awake? 🌬️

This article is evidence-based, verified by Dr. Ahmed ZayedOpens in a new tab..

CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure is a treatment method commonly associated with sleep apnea. However, there are a variety of other uses for CPAP systems not related to sleep.

Although a CPAP machine can be inconvenient to take around, you can use one if you stay in the same place. You can use it when you are awake, even if you do not have breathing problems during the day. It will help you become used to using it at night when you go to sleep.

This article will explain the basics regarding CPAP, followed by a detailed discussion of four of the uses of CPAP while awake.

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What Is CPAP? 🌬️

CPAP or continuous positive airway pressureOpens in a new tab. is a type of ventilator that applies low-level pressure to the lungs constantly. A CPAP keeps airways open in people able to breathe on their own. However, these people need assistance in keeping their airways open at the end of an exhalation. This process increases oxygenation levels and reduces the effort of breathing.

CPAP is an alternative to positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) or a mechanical ventilation system. PEEP devices only impose positive pressure at the end of expiration, whereas CPAP devices provide positive pressure throughout the entire breathing process.

A CPAP system consists of a bedside pump that gently pushes a stream of air through a tube that delivers air to the user. CPAP systems includeOpens in a new tab. one of the following delivery systems:

  • A mask that covers the mouth and nose.
  • A mask that only covers the nose, called nasal continuous positive airway pressure or NCPAP.
  • A tube that ends in prongs that fit inside the nostrils.

Selecting the best CPAP system can be confusing with so many models to choose from these days. Click here for an articleOpens in a new tab. on CPAP machines guaranteed to take the guesswork out of that decision.

4 Possible Uses for a CPAP While Awake 🌬️

There are a variety of uses for CPAP while a person is awake. Although sleep apnea remains the primary beneficiary of CPAP, there are other uses for the system to include the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, treating preterm infants with respiratory ailments, and for treating respiratory viruses.

Additionally, doctors and clinicians recommend using CPAP while awake for getting accustomed to using the system while sleeping for the treatment of sleep apnea.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

CPAP is frequently used to treat Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary DiseaseOpens in a new tab. (COPD), a group of chronic inflammatory lung diseases that obstruct airflow from the lungs. According to the Mayo ClinicOpens in a new tab., two of the most common conditions associated with COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tube linings which carry air to and from the alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs. Similarly, emphysema is a condition in which irritating gases and cigarette smoke destroy the alveoli located at the end of the lung’s smallest air passages (bronchioles)

In broader terms, COPD is associated with hypoxiaOpens in a new tab. or the state of having lower than normal levels of oxygen in arterial blood as the result of any kind of interruption of normal respiration. Put another way; hypoxia is the state or condition in which the oxygen supply is insufficient to sustain healthy life functions due to breathing deficiencies.

Symptoms of COPD include difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, and mucus (or sputum) production. COPD is typically caused by smoking or by long-term exposure to particulate matter or irritating gases. (The Environmental Protection Agency definesOpens in a new tab. particulate matter as a complex mixture of tiny particles and liquid droplets.)

COPD is progressiveOpens in a new tab., meaning that its severity increases over time. Additionally, people suffering from COPD have an increased risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease, and a variety of other severe medical conditions.

However, on a positive note, a study publishedOpens in a new tab. in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease concluded that “CPAP may be a useful alternative” to more invasive forms of respiratory assistance like intubation (the insertion of a breathing tube).

Additionally, a more recent study published by Respirology determined that CPAP can increase the ability to inhale, particularly for patients suffering from emphysema.

Respiratory Ailments in Preterm Infants

CPAP is widely used to treat respiratory illnesses in preterm or premature infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics reportedOpens in a new tab. that one of the most common diagnoses of Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) is Apnea of Prematurity.

Apnea or temporary cessation of breathing in preterm babies is often associated with a variety of respiratory disorders commonly treated with CPAP. For example, physicians frequently use CPAP in the treatment of infantile respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS).

Also known as surfactant deficiency disorder (SDD). IRDS is a syndrome in preterm infants associated with a lack of the development of pulmonary surfactant. (For those unfamiliar with the term, pulmonary surfactantOpens in a new tab. is a complex mixture of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins that prevents the partial collapse or incomplete inflation of the lungs.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported that Nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP) is “effective” in reducing the severity and frequency of apnea in preterm infants. Additionally, “limited evidence suggests” that the use of CPAP “may be more effective” in reducing apnea than other systems like conventional respirators.

However, the AAP noted that more extensive studies examining the full scope of the advantages and disadvantages of CPAP in treating apnea are needed.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released an “immediately in effect” guidance policyOpens in a new tab. on March 22, 2020, addressing an anticipated increased need for ventilators, accessories, and other respiratory devices, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the guidance policy stipulated that their recommendations were intended to “augment” and not replace any procedures and specific controls developed by the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOpens in a new tab. and other health care organizations.

That policy recommended that health care providers and facilities use “FDA-cleared” conventional full-featured ventilators whenever possible to support patients suffering from respiratory failure.

However, in the event, the number of available ventilators is running low, the FDA recommended using “alternative devices” capable of delivering pressure support such as CPAPs. The guidance also recommended that patients put on CPAP machines receive appropriate monitoring whenever available.

Facilitating Ease of Use for Sleep Apnea Patients

The most common use for CPAP machines is the treatment of obstructive sleep apneaOpens in a new tab., a potentially severe sleep disorder occurring when a person’s breathing starts and stops during sleep. The University of California Berkeley School of Public Health recently reportedOpens in a new tab. on CPAP’s effectiveness in treating sleep apnea.

However, it also reported that about 50 percent of people with a doctor’s prescription for a CPAP machine fail to use them for the instructed amount of time. There are a variety of reasons why people avoid following their doctor’s instructions. Those include discomfort while wearing the device’s mask.

For that reason, UC Berkeley recommends that people start by using the machine for short periods while awake. (They use the example of using the device while watching television.) Once an individual becomes accustomed to the feel of the mask, he or she can begin wearing it while sleeping for increasing amounts of time for a period of one to three months.

Home PAP Devices in COVID-19 Infected Patients

There is one caveat to using CPAP machines at home for persons infected with COVID-19. Yale University published an articleOpens in a new tab. on April 20, 2020, recommending the installation of a circuit device providing proper filtration for CPAP machines. According to Yale, CPAP machines were not designed for use with highly contagious viruses like COVID-19.

Dr. Meir Kryger, professor of medicine at Yale, along with Dr. Robert Thomas of Harvard, published their circuit designOpens in a new tab. in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The circuit uses off-the-shelf parts. However, Dr. Kryger warned that only an equipment provider or respiratory technician should install the device.

Conclusion 🌬️

There are a variety of uses for CPAP devicesOpens in a new tab. while the patient is awake. In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, CPAP devices are increasingly important as tools to treat aggressive respiratory ailments.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our article explaining how to clean your CPAP at homeOpens in a new tab.. Then, read this article describing how often to change a CPAP batteryOpens in a new tab..

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed ZayedMD, holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. An avid contributor to the Huffington Post and Chicago Tribune, Dr. Zayed believes in providing accurate and accessible information to general readers. With years of writing and editing content in the medical niche, Dr. Zayed likes to think of himself as a man with a mission, keeping the internet free of false medical information.


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