APAP vs. CPAP: What’s the Difference?


While larger lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, eating different foods, or altering your bedtime habits, can be effective in reducing the severity of sleep apnea symptoms, the most reliable way to do so through positive airway pressure, or PAP, therapy, a form of sleep apnea treatment that uses a machine to blow a constant stream of pressurized air through a mask into your upper airway to prevent it from closing while you’re asleep. While CPAP machines are the most common treatment for sleep apnea, there are two other types of PAP machines that patients also use: APAP and Bilevel PAP machines.

Here, we’ll discuss the differences between APAP and CPAP devices to help you figure out which type of treatment is best for you. If you’d like to learn more about the differences between BiPAP and CPAP devices, you can check out our comparison here.

What are CPAP machines?

As the name implies, CPAP machines, or continuous positive airway pressure machines, work by providing a fixed air pressure throughout the night to help keep your upper airway open.

CPAP therapy is the most popular form of treatment among patients diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) because the steady high pressure from the machine prevents the upper airway from collapsing during sleep.

What are APAP machines?

While CPAP machines deliver therapy at a fixed pressure, APAP machines, also known as automatic positive airway pressure machines, Auto CPAPs or auto-titrating PAP machines, adjust between a low and a high pressure setting throughout the night. By measuring the airflow resistance during different stages of sleep, the APAP machine’s built-in algorithm will decrease to a lower pressure if your upper airway is stable or increase to a higher pressure if you’re experiencing an apnea event.

Are APAP machines better than CPAP machines?

CPAP machines are the most commonly used method of PAP therapy because of how simple and effective they are in most cases of sleep apnea; after setting just one pressure, you can rest easier at night. The CPAP machine’s simple design, however, is not always a good thing.

If your upper airway closes often, then a continuous stream of pressured air will be helpful. If not, sleep apnea patients may find that pressure uncomfortable because the pressure level is constant, making it hard for some to breathe normally.

In addition, as your body goes through physical changes, like aging, weight loss or illness, your current pressure setting on your CPAP machine may be too weak or too strong, which could lead to some discomfort during sleep.

APAP devices are more flexible in both of these categories. Because APAPs operate at a range of pressures, the machine can adjust itself to a different pressure to make your therapy process more comfortable. These automatic pressure changes also make APAPs great for treating not only obstructive sleep apnea, but also more complex sleep disorders, such as central sleep apnea.

APAP machines are also suitable for those with various sleeping positions. Depending on how you sleep, you may have more or less apneas throughout the night, which would require pressure changes. An APAP can adapt to your body’s natural positions by adjusting the therapy to your needs, allowing you to only worry about getting a good night’s sleep.

Most APAPs can also be set to a CPAP mode, meaning that if you don’t find the auto-adjusting feature comfortable, you can set it back to a single fixed pressure like a CPAP. You can experiment between the two modes to find out which type of therapy fits you best.

This versatility, however, comes at a cost. On average, a CPAP machine can cost upwards of $500 dollars, not including the CPAP mask, hose, humidifier, and other CPAP supplies you may need. The average cost of an APAP machine, on the other hand, is over $800 dollars, not including any equipment you may need. To some, this is a small price to pay for a higher quality of life; for others, however, the hefty expense of APAP therapy may not be affordable.

What are the best APAP machines?

With so many APAP machines on the market, it’s difficult to figure out which one best fits your circumstances. To help make things a little less stressful, here is a list our team has compiled of our best reviewed APAP machines! If you’d like to view a list of our best reviewed CPAP machines, you can check that out here.

ResMed AirSense 10 AutoSet CPAP

The ResMed AirSense 10™ AutoSet™ is one of the top auto-adjusting CPAP therapy machine for sleep apnea patients, featuring advanced technology capable of detecting a wide variety of sleep disturbances, integrated wireless connectivity for remote monitoring and adjustment by healthcare personnel and a practical design including a built-in HumidAir humidifier, whisper quiet motor, and user-friendly LCD interface.

Philips Respironics DreamStation Auto CPAP

After years of product research and patient feedback on their sleep therapy devices, Philips introduced the Philips Respironics DreamStation Auto CPAP machine. The DreamStation breaks from the traditional PAP machine, providing high quality sleep apnea therapy, bluetooth capabilities and comfort settings, wrapped up in a sleek and low-profile design that isn’t only intuitive, but also looks good on your nightstand.

ResMed AirMini AutoSet Travel CPAP Machine

Coming in at just 0.66 pounds and at the size of 5.4 x 3.3 x 2.0 inches, the ResMed AirMini Autoset Travel CPAP Machine is the world’s smallest APAP machine, able to fit in the palm of your hand. Despite being 2 pounds lighter and half the size of the ResMed AirSense 10, the AirMini is a best-seller, offering the same great quality therapy, bluetooth capabilities and comfort settings, with the added bonus of being incredibly portable.

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