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CPAP, BiPAP, VPAP — What’s the Difference?

When it comes to managing your sleep apnea, the right device can make all the difference. But before you determine if a Z2 Auto Travel CPAP or a Philips Respironics DreamStation is the best option for your needs, you must first understand what type of treatment device will be the best choice for managing your condition.

Sleep apnea treatment devices are often categorized with labels such as CPAP, BiPAP, VPAP, or even APAP. While this can seem confusing at first glance, understanding how these devices differ in the way they treat sleep apnea will prove essential for getting quality treatment.

With the help of your doctor, you will be able to find the device that has the best impact on your sleep. Here is a closer look at what these terms mean, and how they will affect your sleep apnea care.


For most patients, a CPAP device will be more than enough to address their sleep apnea. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. These devices deliver a steady flow of air at a consistent air pressure throughout the night. This keeps air passages open, which will prevent snoring or pauses in breathing.

CPAP devices are generally considered the starting point when prescribing therapy for individuals suffering from sleep apnea. This is in part because the machines themselves tend to be less expensive than other, more highly specialized treatment devices. Most patients are able to find sufficient relief for their symptoms through the use of a standard CPAP device, so they don’t need to spend the extra money for more advanced equipment.

Unsurprisingly, having a continuous flow of air delivered to your breathing passages via a mask and CPAP device takes some getting used to. Because of this, many modern CPAP devices use a ramp system that gradually increases pressure levels as you are getting ready for bed. Depending on the device, the ramping can be set to a timer or will shift to the prescribed pressure level automatically once you are asleep.

This system allows you to fall asleep shortly before the full pressure is applied for a more comfortable transition into treatment. Many modern CPAP devices also allow users to set pressure relief settings that make exhalation slightly easier.

Despite these tech improvements, not all patients are able to adjust to a standard CPAP device. The continuous flow of pressure can prove uncomfortable for some, especially while exhaling. The added discomfort can cause trouble sleeping, and even causes some individuals to give up on their treatment altogether — never a good idea.

Examples of standard home and portable CPAP devices include the Z2 Fixed Pressure Travel CPAP Machine, the Respironics DreamStation Pro CPAP Machine, and the IntelliPap Standard CPAP System.


When CPAP therapy doesn’t seem to be working, medical practitioners will often recommend that the patient switch to a BiPAP or VPAP device. While the acronyms are different, they actually refer to the same type of treatment.

BiPAP stands for bi-level positive airway pressure, while VPAP stands for variable positive airway pressure. Though the term BiPAP is more commonly used, some device manufacturers prefer the term VPAP. Regardless of how the device is branded, however, the core idea is that the machine can deliver two notably different pressures based on whether the patient is inhaling or exhaling.

Though the basic mode of operation is more or less the same as a CPAP device, BiPAP and VPAP machines are more advanced thanks to their ability to monitor a patient’s breathing. During inhalation, a higher level of air pressure (the prescribed treatment level) is delivered to ensure that airways stay open. When the user exhales, pressure decreases by four cm H2O or more for easier exhalation. This cycle continues throughout the night to ensure comfortable breathing and effective treatment.

Generally, sleep apnea patients are not prescribed a BiPAP/VPAP device unless treatment proves ineffective or too uncomfortable with a standard CPAP machine. These devices may also be prescribed for obese individuals, who often require higher air pressure than other patients. However, BiPAP/VPAP machines are also used when other conditions affecting nighttime breathing are present, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as certain neuromuscular and cardiopulmonary disorders.

Though BiPAP/VPAP devices offer a wider range of treatment options and can prove more comfortable than a standard CPAP machine, they are also more expensive due to the added tech that goes into their manufacturing. It is also worth noting that in some cases, patients using a BiPAP/VPAP device may also begin to experience central sleep apnea as a result of the alternating air pressures, though this is uncommon.

Popular BiPAP/VPAP models include the REMstar BiPAP/BiFlex with “System One” Humidifier and the ResMed AirCurve 10 S Bi-Level with Integrated Humidifier.


The term “APAP” isn’t used as frequently as CPAP or BiPAP, but it can still have a significant impact on your sleep apnea treatment. This term stands for automatic airway pressure — meaning that the machine makes automatic adjustments throughout the night to deliver the exact level of air pressure that is needed at any given moment.

Though a single prescribed air pressure is often suitable for preventing sleep apnea episodes, your breathing changes constantly during the night. As a result, the optimal air pressure your body needs doesn’t just change based on whether you are inhaling or exhaling — it can also change as you go through the various stages of the sleep cycle.

Standard CPAP and BiPAP devices use predetermined settings to deliver the same level (or levels) of air pressure based on what your doctor determines will provide the most effective treatment. While an automatic CPAP or BiPAP machine uses such measurements as a guideline, the device takes things a step further by continually monitoring and adapting to each breath you take.

Advanced monitoring systems allow the device to increase or decrease pressure throughout the night. When your air passages are stable, it can decrease pressure for added comfort. When a sleep apnea event is detected or anticipated, pressure is increased automatically to halt the problem in its tracks. In other words, patients will always receive the exact level of pressure they need at a particular moment.

As with BiPAP devices, APAP machines are often prescribed for individuals who are struggling adapting to a normal CPAP device. APAP devices are also frequently used to manage non-obstructive sleep apnea.

The advantages of an APAP device are clear — but you probably won’t find many machines sporting an “APAP” label. To simplify matters when purchasing a treatment device, these products are typically branded as either an “Auto CPAP” or “Auto BiPAP” device. While the device’s base may be a CPAP or BiPAP, the addition of breath monitoring and automation tech ensures that you will always get the right level of air pressure.

Examples of auto CPAP and BiPAP devices include the ResMed AirSense 10 AutoSet w/HumidAir and ClimateLineAir Tube, the Z2 Auto Travel CPAP Machine, and the Respironics DreamStation BiPAP Auto DSX700T11.

Smart Treatment

You don’t necessarily have to upgrade to an auto CPAP device to get high-tech treatment. Even standard CPAP and BiPAP machines are implementing tech in more ways than ever before to make sleep apnea treatment more convenient and comfortable.

For example, the ResMed AirSense S10 CPAP Machine utilizes features such as SmartStart and auto stop. Though the device delivers CPAP-style treatment, these features allow the machine to detect when you breathe into the mask or take it off to automatically start or stop treatment. Sleep onset detection allows the device to identify when you have fallen asleep while using ramping, which ensures that you will receive the prescribed pressure levels while you sleep.

Sleep reporting tools are also a standard element of most modern CPAP and BiPAP devices. Depending on the type of device you use, data from your sleeping habits can either be stored on an SD card or transmitted via Bluetooth to a device-specific app or web portal. These reports are vital for both patients and medical providers by giving an in-depth look at therapy usage, mask seal quality, and more.

Such reports don’t just prove to your doctor that you are actually using your device as prescribed. They can also help you determine potential inefficiencies in your treatment. Understanding whether or not your current device is providing adequate sleep apnea therapy will prove vital for managing your condition and determining if changes to your treatment are needed.

Do You Need a Humidifier?

A key component to consider for your treatment — regardless of whether you use a basic CPAP device or an auto BiPAP machine — is the inclusion of a humidifier. It isn’t unusual for individuals undergoing sleep apnea treatment to begin experiencing a dry mouth or sore throat as a result of the air pressure delivered throughout the night. In some cases, the use of a CPAP or BiPAP device can also contribute to congestion.

If your device does not use a humidifier, the machine will essentially act like a mini fan that pulls air from your room. This room-temperature air is often dry, which can irritate your breathing passages. This can prove especially problematic if you have a cold, as the dry air will cause additional irritation and possibly inflammation.

Because of this, it is typically recommended that those undergoing sleep apnea treatment use a humidifier with their device, regardless of the type of machine they use. It should not come as much of a surprise, then, that many modern CPAP and BiPAP device come with a pre-installed humidifier. Humidifier attachments are also readily available for most other equipment.

Both heated and non-heated humidifiers are available, though heated variants are more common. Heated humidifiers allow users to increase temperature settings so the air delivered to their breathing passages is warmer than room temperature, which can further enhance comfort and minimize potential side effects.

Using a humidifier will allow you to sleep comfortably when using your CPAP or BiPAP device. Increased moisture in the air will help you avoid the dryness and irritation that may otherwise occur as you undergo treatment. Keep in mind, however, that humidifiers should use distilled water for best results. Consistent cleaning of the mask, tubing, and humidifier chamber will also prove essential to prevent condensation buildup.

Masks Matter, Too

While picking the right CPAP or BiPAP device will have a significant impact on the quality of your treatment, this isn’t the only factor you need to consider. The right mask and tubing will also play a vital role in ensuring that you get adequate air pressure for your sleep apnea treatment.

Fortunately, many masks are interchangeable, regardless of whether you are using CPAP or BiPAP therapy. However, many device manufacturers have proprietary mask and tubing connections, which may limit which parts are compatible with your device. When selecting a replacement mask, you should always double check that your mask of choice will be compatible with your equipment.

Beyond branding, the type of mask you use should also be carefully considered. A full face mask like the ResMed Mirage Quattro is an absolute must for patients who breathe through their mouth during their sleep. Whether this is a side effect of obstructive sleep apnea or allergies, having coverage for both your mouth and nose will prove vital for receiving appropriate treatment.

For other patients, a nasal mask or nasal pillows may be more appropriate for their therapy. Nasal pillows reduce the risk of leakage thanks to their secure fit, while also allowing users to more easily wear glasses or read a book as they get ready for bed.

By choosing a mask that matches your sleeping and breathing styles, you can ensure that the pressure being supplied by your CPAP or BiPAP device is performing its intended function. Many modern devices incorporate a “mask fit check” that enables users to identify potential leaks. Correcting such issues will ensure better treatment, and can also be used to help you determine when a replacement is needed.

Which Device Should You Get?

Ultimately, as a patient, the decision of whether a CPAP, BiPAP, or APAP device will be best suited for your sleep apnea treatments is best left to your medical provider. Most individuals who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea will start with a standard CPAP device. However, those whose condition is complicated by another medical condition or central sleep apnea may be prescribed a BiPAP or auto CPAP device right away.

Quite often, overnight monitoring of your sleeping habits will be necessary to adequately determine which device and mask combination will be best for your needs. This will account for more than just your breathing — it will also consider factors like your sleep position and how often you move around in your sleep.

Though such testing will give your medical provider a good baseline to begin with, it isn’t the be-all end-all of ensuring that you receive appropriate treatment. Continually monitoring your sleep quality and treatment effectiveness will prove vital for achieving lasting results. Sharing data from your device with your medical provider will help them make any changes that may be needed — whether that be adjusting your prescribed pressure or switching to a different type of device.

It is normal to feel some discomfort as you first adapt to using a CPAP machine. However, if significant discomfort continues due to the continuous flow of air pressure and you don’t seem to be sleeping any better, it would be a good idea to speak with your doctor. They will help you determine what is causing the problem. While you may need to switch to a BiPAP or automated device, you could also be experiencing issues with your mask.

Finding the Right Machine

Regardless of whether your doctor has recommended a BiPAP/VPAP device or an automated CPAP machine, paying for your equipment isn’t always easy — particularly when your sleep apnea treatment isn’t covered by insurance.

Here at No Insurance Medical Supplies, we aim to make treatment convenient and affordable by providing great deals on some of the industry’s best brands. Our bundle packages are a great place to start, combining the core CPAP or BiPAP device with much-needed extras like tubing, replacement filters, a mask, sanitizing devices, travel cases and more.

With the right equipment and supplies, you will be better equipped to enjoy effective treatment every night.

Remember, addressing sleep apnea is about much more than stopping snoring or feeling better rested in the morning. If left untreated, long-term effects of sleep apnea can include stroke, high blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes. Trying to get through your normal routine when suffering from excessive fatigue can increase your risk of an accident while on the road or at work.

Treating sleep apnea will do much more than help you feel rested and refreshed in the morning. By selecting the right type of device and mask for your individual situation, you will enjoy healthier outcomes for many years to come.

Don’t wait to start enjoying better quality sleep. Consult with your doctor to determine which type of CPAP or BiPAP device will be best for you. Then, you can come to us for hassle-free ordering at affordable prices so you can make a much-needed change to your life.


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