Snoring a lot, and loudly? Rolling out of bed with a massive headache? Suddenly waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air or feeling like you were being choked?
Sleep apnea basically means there are periods during the night when you don’t breathe appropriately, cutting off precious oxygen from your brain and muscles. The condition can become more serious if left untreated. In addition to the symptoms above, sleep apnea raises the risk of heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke—to say nothing of chronic headaches and muscle soreness.
For decades, there was no effective way to treat OSA—until the CPAP. Continuous positive airway pressure machines, or CPAPs, are the most commonly prescribed treatment for OSA.
We determined the DreamStation by Philips Respironics is the best CPAP machine out there — especially for individuals with sleep apnea.
First of all, it’s gorgeous. It’s like an Apple product, but it helps you breathe! Second, it is the most prescribed therapy sleep system by physicians in the U.S. And when we say most prescribed, we mean across the board—whether the patient has sleep apnea or not. Third, it shines in all the most successful features of CPAP therapy: heated humidifier compatibility, sleep data tracking, Bluetooth compatibility, etc. It’s got it all.
The 411 on Sleep Apnea
More Americans are being diagnosed with sleep apnea. Of the two types, the most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when the soft tissue at the back of the throat blocks your airways. CPAP machines (and similar devices) are among the most effective means to treat OSA. We selected and reviewed the products in this ranking with OSA patients in mind. None of these devices are BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) machines.
One in three adults do not get enough sleep. And as if a good night’s sleep isn’t already hard to come by, recent reports show that more and more Americans have been diagnosed with OSA. Now, over a quarter of all adults in the U.S. between the ages of 30 and 70 are estimated to have OSA, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
OSA occurs when the airway in the back of the throat is blocked, preventing normal airflow. Symptoms include heavy snoring, gasping for air, shallow breathing, and occasional temporary loss of breath.
This condition can disrupt your sleep cycle, prevent your body from relaxing, and contribute to achy mornings and drowsy wakeful hours. Other health symptoms include mood swings, headaches, and high blood pressure.
What Is a CPAP?
These devices sit next to your bed—on the floor, on a nightstand, wherever—and connect to a mask you wear while you sleep. It pumps filtered air through the mask and into your airway, preventing the airways from closing during the night, regulating your breathing, and allowing you to get the oxygen you need in order to sleep deeply.
How CPAP Machines Work
A CPAP machine has one goal: to keep air moving through your airway to prevent it from closing or getting obstructed. But this isn’t like an ordinary oxygen face mask hooked up to a tank. Here are the individual features, some of which may be sold separately, depending on which model you buy.
This is the heart of the CPAP machine, located in the main device. It pressurizes surrounding air and pumps it up the tube and into the mask.
This component improves the quality of the air being sucked in by the airflow generator. It catches dust and allergens. Most designs are reusable and require only occasional cleaning.
This component may be built into the main device or attached separately, but it is often optional. Some humidifiers are heated. It includes a reservoir for distilled water that you fill up before bed. It moistens the pressurized air so that your throat and mouth aren’t dry and leathery in the morning.
Perhaps the most delicate part of the device, the hose transfers pressurized air from the main device to your face mask. It is usually several feet long.
The mask is worn all night, if possible, and it pushes the air into your mouth and through your airway. It must be connected and worn properly for the CPAP machine to work effectively. There are many types of masks. Consumers can usually choose among several options to find a fit that is comfortable and effective.
What to Look for in the Best CPAP Machines
There are several types of CPAP machines to choose from. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea or OSA, the options can be daunting. But take a deep breath: We’ve got you covered.
Here are the major factors you should consider when choosing a CPAP machine:
CPAP Size and Weight
Not all CPAPs are the same size or weight. The smaller and more compact ones tend to be more expensive, but these factors should be prioritized if you travel frequently. If you aren’t sure how large the CPAP you’re considering is, check the dimensions of the carrying case. Also keep in mind how much space you have available next to your bed (i.e., nightstand, table, etc.).
When we say “pressurized air,” you should immediately ask: How much pressure are we talking? All CPAP machines deliver a range of pressurized air levels, measured using centimeters of water, or cmH20. Unless otherwise instructed by your health professional, pick a CPAP with a range of 4 to 20 cmH20. This range will most likely meet your specific needs.
What good is a CPAP machine if the airflow generator keeps you awake all night? Noise has been a common flaw in CPAP machines, although they’ve become much quieter in recent years. Still, the quieter the machine, the better. CPAP noise is measured in dbA (A-weighted decibels). Compare products to get a sense for a low rating.
Pressurized air is very dry, which can cause dryness and irritation of the mouth and throat. Humidifiers can be built-in or detachable—or sold separately! Before you buy a CPAP, check the size of the reservoir. A larger reservoir means the CPAP can be used for a longer period before it needs to be refilled.
To come up with the best CPAP machines, we cross-referenced product tests (both by companies and individuals); applied critical analytics to hundreds of customer experiences; researched the policies, principles, credentials, and methodologies of manufacturers; and also cited credible medical authorities on particular brands. In short, we strived to put ourselves in your position while we did the research for you.
Here are the criteria we used to compile this list:
- Size: A good CPAP machine, even if it is not travel-sized, should be small enough to maneuver easily.
- Auto adjusting pressure: The best CPAPs have pressure technology that adjusts to your breathing.
- Ramp time: CPAPs with a ramp time start at a low pressure and then gradually work their way up to therapeutic levels, giving you enough time to fall asleep before they reach peak pressure. The longer the ramp time, the better.
- Hose length: The hose length will determine how far the device can stand from you.
- Heated humidifier: The best CPAPs either include a built-in heated humidifier or are compatible with an external one.
- Integrated battery: Not all CPAPs can transition from cords to battery, making them more versatile. We favored those that do.
- Noise: The fewer decibels, the better.
- Pressure range: A good CPAP offers a standard range of 4 cm to 20 cmH2O in 0.5 increments.
- Sleep data: The best CPAPs track your sleep data and store it for later reference, usually on a data card.
- Fair price: We rated products that are priced proportionately to (or lower than) their quality higher than pricier ones.
- Trial period: The longer the sleep trial, the more we favored the product.
- Eco-friendly: Companies that demonstrate environmentally conscious practices were rated more highly.
- Warranty: How long is the warranty, and what does it tell us about the product?
- Reviews: How are users’ sleeping experiences? Are they positive?
The Best CPAP Machines
The DreamStation by Philips Respironics, while not the most affordable CPAP on the market, is the most frequently prescribed sleep therapy system by physicians in the U.S., and for good reason. This device is elegant, compact, and smart. The automatic function modifies the pressure level to overcome each particular apneic episode, so you can rest easy.
The DreamStation comes with a range of unique features. It begins operating as soon as it detects breathing. It is Bluetooth compatible, and includes an app so you can monitor your sleeping cycles. If you have frequent episodes of sleep apnea, this info could be very useful. The digital screen automatically dims when lights are low, and the sleek, modern design gives it the aesthetic appeal of an Apple product.
However, the best feature for the DreamStation is the noise. This is the quietest CPAP on the market, clocking in at a mere 25.8 decibels, which is a must if you are a sensitive sleeper (or share your bedroom with one). The only downside is that the humidifier is sold separately, adding an unwelcome expense to an already pricey device.
- Nearly silent
- Two-year warranty
- Sleep physician-prescribed
- Humidifier sold separately
The AirMini, manufactured by ResMed, is the smallest CPAP in the world. Weighing less than a pound, it is so compact and light you can hold it between your thumb and index finger. This CPAP machine is ideal for frequent travelers. Though it is small, this mousey machine performs just as well as many of its larger competitors.
Every feature of the AirMini is designed to make it travel-ready. Instead of a water reservoir, the AirMini features the HumidX, an innovative and waterless humidification system. The HumidX is roughly the size of a quarter and only needs to be replaced every 30 days, so you can leave the bottle of distilled water at home.
Sure, the AirMini is one of the louder CPAP machines out there (clocking it at a booming 30 decibels), but that’s to be expected from a smaller device which has less surface area to absorb sound. However, it is much quieter than other CPAPs its size. Keep in mind that it is not compatible with every mask, including some of the more comfortable ones.
- Bluetooth compatible
- Two-year warranty
- Waterless humidification
- A bit loud (30 decibels)
- Compatible with four masks
IntelliPAP Standard Plus with SmartFlex
The IntelliPAP Standard Plus is not only one of the most affordable CPAP machines on the market, but it is also one of the most highly rated by users. It includes the whole package: an integrated heated humidifier, an 8-foot power cord, and one of the longest warranties for a CPAP machine. Its boxy design makes it unobtrusive and easy to transport.
IntelliPAP is among the smartest CPAP machines out there, with patented SmartFlex technology that tracks each and every breath. It anticipates your inhales and exhales, and automatically adjusts the air pressure to the proper levels. It also allows you to choose from three comfort settings. Each setting equates to an exact 1 cmH20 drop in pressure upon exhalation, so you can find your ideal comfort zone with precision.
The IntelliPAP is relatively light at 4.45 lbs with the humidifier, making it travel-ready. It runs on the quieter side at 26 decibels, so it is unlikely to disturb you or your partner during the night.
- Three-year warranty
- Quiet (26 decibels)
- SmartFlex technology
- A bit large
- 45-minute delay time
This CPAP machine might be the most user-friendly on the market. No lengthy user manual. No complex settings. Everything is automated using smart technology, and all you have to do is press a button and roll over. The SleepStyle, manufactured by Fisher & Paykel, is so simple to use, it is the only CPAP machine with the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use Commendation.
Many first-time users find wearing a mask that forces air down their airways uncomfortable. The pressure has to be just right, and even then, the CPAP machine needs to be able to adjust the pressure several times during the night so as not to disturb you. The SleepStyle is a good choice for first-time users. The patented SensAwake technology can detect when you are about to wake up, anticipates the problem, and immediately reduces the pressure to a more comfortable level.
The SleepStyle is a stylish and compact CPAP machine that looks great on your nightstand. It’s on the louder side at 28 decibels, but makes up for it with a low ramp time—a mere 20 minutes, which is more than twice as fast as most competing models.
- Auto-adjust pressure
- Two-year warranty
- Quick ramp time
- Very expensive
- Loud (28 decibels)
Transcend 3 miniCPAP
In the early days, when CPAP machines were just breaking into the market for domestic use, Transcend manufactured one of the first travel-size devices. This product, the Transcend 3 miniCPAP, is an updated version of the original model. It comes with several new features, including a sleeker modern design, a stabilizing flat silicone base, and a swivel nozzle.
The Transcend 3 is about the size of a soda can and weighs just over a pound. It’s FAA-approved, so you can use it on a plane. It is also compatible with a small battery pack about the size of a deck of cards, so you can use it in the middle of the wilderness, too. Though other CPAPs might be smaller or lighter, few are this hardy.
The Transcend 3 is much louder than most CPAPs, registering a whopping 30 decibels, largely due to its small size. However, the modest price, classic reputation, generous warranty, and versatility more than make up for the noise.
- Three-year warranty
- Risk-free 30-day trial
- Compatible with all masks
- Louder than other options (30 decibels)
- Accessories sold separately
- No sleep data tracking
Every CPAP machine faces two challenges when it comes to air pressure. First, it must be low enough to be comfortable and not disturb your sleep. Second, it must be high enough to be effective and keep your airways open all night long. The best CPAP machines find the happy medium—and the iCH Prime is one of those machines.
The iCH Prime by Apex Medical actively seeks the lowest air pressure necessary, prioritizing your comfort without jeopardizing effective therapy. Its unique Compliance 2 algorithm adjusts to the prescribed pressure at the time you need it most. Meanwhile, it tracks your sleep data, which is easy to access.
The iCH Prime comes with a built-in humidifier you can adjust to your preferred setting. For noise, it hums at 28 decimals—a bit loud for a device of this size, but it looks good doing it. The digital screen also has some handy bedside features, like an alarm clock.
- Two-year warranty
- Built-in humidifier
- Compliant pressure tech
- Very expensive
- A bit heavy
- Loud for its size
This travel-ready CPAP by Human Design Medical fits in the palm of your hand like a remote controller. Or a Star Trek: TNG phaser. You know the one. And it’s ready to go where no one has gone before! This hardy little device is designed for hikers, backpackers, and others who enjoy a night in the great outdoors.
The Z2 is a successor to the Z1, with a few upgrades. First, it has a quieter motor and now purrs at 26 decibels. Second, it includes an Auto Stop feature, so it turns off automatically mere seconds after it detects the mask is removed. Now you don’t have to reach for it in the dark.
The Z2 includes an optional lithium ion battery. A full charge provides all-night therapy before it needs recharging. No special mask is required, so you can opt for whichever you find most comfortable. And it weighs a mere 10.2 ounces.
- Three-year warranty
- Quiet for size
- A bit pricey
- No humidification feature
- Accessories sold separately
Luna II Auto CPAP System
The Luna II by 3B Medical is an upgraded version of its predecessor. Now the Luna has a large LCD display that is both user-friendly and precise. It also comes with a built-in, dual-chamber, 360-milliliter heated humidifier, but it’s a bit too bulky for easy travel. Consider this product if you are in the market for a stationary, at-home CPAP.
What distinguishes the Luna II from most other CPAPs on our list is the long ramp time. As you might guess, air at certain pressure levels can be uncomfortable and make it difficult to fall asleep. CPAPs with a ramp time start at a low pressure and then gradually work their way up to therapeutic levels, giving you enough time to fall asleep before peak pressure is reached. Most CPAPs have a ramp time of 40 minutes or so, but that’s not always long enough for everybody to doze off. The Luna II boasts a full 60-minute ramp time.
The Luna II is also smart. It turns on automatically when it detects breathing. It also adjusts pressure as it charts your breathing patterns. Meanwhile, it keeps close track of your sleep data, which you can send to an app on your phone or even directly to your doctor.
- Two-year warranty
- 60-minute ramp time
- Built-in heated humidifier
- Not very popular
Lotus Auto CPAP
The Lotus Auto CPAP by Curative Medical is a no-nonsense, bare-bones machine. Think back to when McDonald’s launched its first restaurant. Only three items were served: burgers, fries, and a soft drink. The founders limited the menu to only the most popular fast-food items. Similarly, the Lotus has a lean set of features which capitalize on the most successful elements of CPAP therapy.
This CPAP is the most average on the market. This doesn’t make it bad, just the opposite: What it does, it happens to do very well. It’s smart enough to adjust pressure to your breathing and track your sleep data. It is compatible with a heated humidifier, which is sold separately. It features an adjustable ramp time from one to 60 minutes, all of which can be entered on a large, user-friendly LCD screen.
This is an excellent (and if we’re honest, aesthetically pleasing), basic CPAP that is more affordable than many of its counterparts.
- Two-year warranty
- Slow 60-minute ramp time
- Competitive price
- Accessories sold separately
Infant Flow SiPAP
The Infant Flow SiPAP by Vyaire Medical is low in our ranking, not because it is a poor machine, but because it’s designed for a very specific patient. If the Lotus is the most generic CPAP, the Infant Flow is the most specialized.
As the name suggests, this CPAP is for newborns and infants—or neonates, as they are called in health technology terms. Though this is a small market, the Infant Flow SiPAP corners it, and has done so for two decades. It offers respiratory support at a level of pressure too low for most CPAPs to achieve, relieving infants from the effort of breathing. And it is 100% compliant with the U.S. National Patient Safety Goal for alarm safety.
Like all CPAPs, the Infant Flow is not available over the counter. It must be purchased with a prescription. It also serves a range of respiratory needs beyond OSA.
- Compliant for alarm safety
- Specialized features
What’s the difference between a CPAP and BiPAP machine?
CPAPs and BiPAPs (also called BPAPs) are very similar machines. Both are designed to treat sleep apnea. Both deliver pressurized air through a hose and mask into your airways to prevent the soft tissue at the back of your throat from collapsing and blocking the airways. Both machines promote normal breathing throughout the night. That said, there are some key differences.
A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine does as its name suggests: It applies one pressure setting continuously without breaks. This ensures the airways remain open all night long, but exhaling against the incoming air can feel uncomfortable for some sleepers. The higher the air pressure, the more difficult breathing can be.
A bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machine differs from the CPAP in this crucial respect: Instead of delivering one continuous prescribed pressure, a BiPAP alternates between two separate pressures. By timing the breaths, BiPAP machines can deliver the prescribed pressure for inhales, and then lower the pressure for exhales, allowing patients to breathe in and out the optimal amount of oxygen.
BiPAP machines tend to be more expensive than CPAPs, and not every user notices the difference between them. BiPAPs might be a better choice for patients with a particularly high prescribed air pressure or for patients with certain cardiopulmonary or lung disorders, although you should talk with your doctor about which is best for your particular needs.
However, most physicians prescribe a CPAP first. BiPAPs only tend to be recommended if a CPAP isn’t effective.
Who is at risk for sleep apnea?
More and more Americans are diagnosed with sleep apnea every year. But some are at greater risk than others.
For some people, the anatomy of their throat might make them susceptible to sleep apnea. Anatomical indicators include a tongue or tonsils that are larger than average. Another anatomical sign of risk is a lower jaw that is shorter than the upper jaw.
Aside from apparent anatomical features, the profile of the average sleep apnea patient is male, overweight, older than 40, has a family history of sleep apnea, and has nasal-related sensitivities such as a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems.
Finally, your sleeping position might contribute to your risk of sleep apnea. If you sleep on your back, gravity pulls the tissues in the back of your throat down where they can block the airway.
What kinds of face masks are worn with CPAP machines?
There is a wide variety of masks available for CPAP users. You can most likely purchase any mask for your CPAP machine, provided it can fit the hose. Double check with the manufacturer before purchasing a mask separately.
Broadly speaking, there are three main types of masks you can wear with CPAP devices:
Full Face Mask
The full face mask covers both your nose and mouth. It has a large profile, as it covers almost half your face, and is secured by straps that travel around the top and back of your head. This type of mask is the most popular for CPAP users, and it is usually recommended for sleepers who breathe through their mouth.
If you breathe primarily through your nose at night, a nasal mask is the best choice. As the name suggests, nasal masks fit over your nose only. For those who are trying to reduce snoring, the nasal mask is often equipped with a chin strap to keep your mouth closed.
This mask is similar to the nasal mask, except it does not cover your nose. Instead, it perches beneath your nostrils and jets air through them.
Is there more than one type of sleep apnea?
Yes, there are three types of sleep apnea.
The first and most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, which occurs when there is a chronic blocking of the airways. Usually, this is a result of the soft tissue at the back of your throat collapsing while you sleep. The tissue may become dislodged and then collapse again several times throughout the night.
The second and less common type is central sleep apnea, or CSA. It is different from OSA because no blockage of the airways occurs. Rather, your brain fails to signal your muscles to breathe, usually due to instability in the respiratory control center of the brain. CSA is a much more difficult type of sleep apnea to treat.
The third type is called mixed sleep apnea and is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
The CPAP machine is normally prescribed for people with OSA, not those with CSA, and has been proven to be a very effective form of non-invasive treatment.
What are the best CPAP machines?
There are many varieties of CPAP machines, and some have highly unique features. But to choose the best CPAP, there are a few general guidelines to follow.
The best CPAPs are small to moderate in size and weight, which makes them more travel-ready, less conspicuous, and easier to relocate if you need to. The smallest CPAP in the world is the AirMini, manufactured by ResMed. It weighs less than a pound. It is so compact, you can hold it between your thumb and index finger.
The best CPAPs, like the DreamStation by Philips Respironics, have a long ramp time, which allows you to fall asleep before the higher, prescribed levels of air pressure are delivered. The best CPAP machines include a long hose (no shorter than 5 feet), create little noise (under 28 decibels), and offer a standard pressure range (4 to 20 cmH2O). Finally, the best CPAPs include either a built-in heated humidifier or are compatible with an external reservoir.
The best CPAPs measure and track your breathing, and some even turn on automatically when they detect breathing. The smartest CPAP machine out there is the IntelliPAP. Its patented SmartFlex technology measures your breathing and automatically adjusts the pressure so that you can remain comfortable without jeopardizing therapeutic levels of pressure.
In hectic modern life, sleep is becoming more and more elusive. Fight back by checking out these other products that will help you win many nights of deep, rejuvenating, undisturbed rest.
- Layla Memory Foam Mattress Topper: Boost the softness (or firmness) of your mattress by adding a topper. It’s like a mini-mattress, but more affordable.
- Beckham Hotel Collection Gel Pillow: What good is a quality mattress without pillows to match? These pillows are the most cooling you are likely to find.
- Mayfair Linen Egyptian Cotton Sheets: Adorn your bed in the softest and most durable cotton sheets on the market. At least, that’s our humble opinion.