Are Sleep Apnea Machines Loud?

a man sleeping with cpap machine

Perhaps a better question is will noise from a CPAP machine wake someone up or keep them or their loved ones awake.  In short – no.

A CPAP machine is a device that provides Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (hence the acronym).  This air pressure is the best known treatment for sleep apnea and snoring.  Snoring and sleep apnea are caused by the airway collapsing or being blocked and the air pressure helps keep it clear.  In many patients, it makes the difference between a good nights sleep and a fitful restless one.  Many people consider the machine to be their sleep savior.

What causes the sounds when using a CPAP machine?

1 – The motor.   A CPAP works on the same principle as a vacuum cleaner so has a similar sound but much quieter.  

2 – The sound of air forced through the openings in the tubes.  Air makes more sound as it moves faster and smaller tubes create more pressure and more sound.  The pressure is what is needed for a CPAP machine to work properly so reducing this is not an option.

3 – The mask can cause some sound.  Again, it is the sound of the air being forced through it.  Or it is the air escaping the mask.  The masks are designed to allow air to leave as the patient breathes out.  If air leaves where it is supposed to, there is less sound.

4 – Natural breathing.  Your breath pushes against the air coming in and creates a sound.

There is a difference between noise and sound.  Noise is confused changes in sound.  The sound from a CPAP machine is continuous and it is changes in sound levels that tend to wake us up.  CPAP sound is continuous white noise.  Your breathing is what causes any variation in sound.  This creates a soft rhythmic sound that is quite soothing to many people.

Human beings are built to be aware of changes in sound but comfortable with continuous sounds like these.  Some people like to imagine the sounds they hear are the sounds of breath (which they are) or waves from the ocean. Breath and waves are soothing.  These can work to help lull them to sleep. 

Some of the older machines were loud which is why some people still hold on to the belief they are noisy.  Sound is created by the fan in the machine but this can be accentuated by forcing the air through a tube – thus creating noise.   New fans are quieter and the machines are engineered deliberately to be quiet.

Some masks are louder than others.  Typically those with less room for the air to move through create more sound.  A reputable mask supplier can explain the features and sound levels coming from the various alternatives.

Another noise associated with a machine can be air escaping from a leaky, poorly fitted air mask.  This is easily fixed and is not really CPAP noise but an easily fixed side effect.

So the sound of the machine is nominal and not a problem in most cases.  The benefits of the machine for most people far outweigh any “noise” issues.  

If someone is very, very sound sensitive, there are still simple earplugs that some people use.

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