How Long Do You Have to Use CPAP?

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It is a common question, especially when first diagnosed with sleep apnea: Do you have to use CPAP therapy forever?

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) can effectively cure sleep apnea, but it may not be the most appealing treatment for everyone. While you and your healthcare provider can explore alternatives to CPAP, you may also want to focus on things that mean you won't need the machine forever.

Man with a CPAP machine in bed
AndreyPopov / Getty Images

Factors Leading to Sleep Apnea

First, it is important to recognize that not everyone has sleep apnea for the same reasons.

It may be dependent on your anatomy, the structures within your nose and throat and the position of your jaw and tongue. These predispositions may be present from birth and persist throughout life.

A broken nose may lead to a deviated septum. Tissues in the nose, called turbinates, may swell in response to allergies. Over years, mouth breathing, teeth position, and other factors may change how well the airway can be maintained during sleep.

Some transient and reversible factors also contribute to sleep apnea.

Some people only experience sleep apnea or snoring during certain scenarios. Alcohol and sleeping on your back (in a supine position) often make these conditions worse. Nasal congestion due to a cold or allergies may also exacerbate them. REM sleep, which occurs more towards morning, may provoke it.

Weight gain makes sleep apnea worse. The accumulation of fat tissues at the base of the tongue and along the airway may narrow it.

Aging may lead to a loss of muscle tone and more collapsibility of the airway. Women beyond the age of menopause are at higher risk due to a loss of hormones, including progesterone.

As you might expect, some of these factors are reversible, and others are not.

Does CPAP Cure Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is improved by CPAP as the device creates a constant airflow that keeps the airway from collapsing during sleep. While it's used, sleep apnea can fully resolve.

However, CPAP is not a cure in the sense that a limited period of use will not result in structural changes that can lead to discontinuation of therapy. It only works when you use it.

Like a pair of glasses, which only improve your vision when you wear them, a CPAP only helps you to breathe and sleep better if you use it. Put it aside, and your condition will return, as the predisposing factors never really went away.

Interestingly, many people will note a few days of residual benefit when they stop using CPAP or take a break. This is due to decreased swelling along the airway. As snoring and sleep apnea resume, the swelling returns and so do the symptoms of the condition.

Is a CPAP Machine Forever?

When asked if CPAP is forever, the short answer for most people with sleep apnea is that CPAP is the most effective treatment that currently exists. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it is forever, though.

If your sleep apnea is exacerbated by allergies, treatment may help. If it occurs only during pregnancy, this too will resolve in time.

It's important to reflect on the factors contributing to your condition. It may be helpful to discuss and identify these with your sleep specialist. Weight loss can be hugely beneficial.

Many people with sleep apnea will put up with the inconvenience. Interacting with the device for a few minutes per day and using it through the night leads to significant benefit.

The nuisance is worth the trade-off of better quality sleep, improved daytime alertness and function, and decreased risk for long-term health problems. Some get so great a benefit that the device ultimately can’t be pried from their hands.


Technology is advancing in every aspect of life, including the treatment of health conditions like sleep apnea. These devices are getting smaller, quieter, easier to use, and less intrusive. Certainly, though, not everyone wants to use or tolerates CPAP.

Alternatives exist, including oral appliances and surgical options, and more are being developed all the time. You may not have to use CPAP for the rest of your life because something better will come along.

If you question whether the device is needed, or helpful, revisit the issue with your board-certified sleep specialist.

It's possible to review the data collected by the device and get a sense of how well it is working. In addition, a sleep study can be repeated to assess whether your sleep apnea condition has resolved.

A Word From Verywell

If you choose to use CPAP, don’t view it as a life sentence. Instead, recognize it for the opportunity that it is: a simple intervention that can change your life for the better.

If reversible contributing factors exist, including excessive weight, consider working on changes to put it aside for good.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.