Sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, are a common and major health issue in the U.S. The American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) estimates that 22 million people in the U.S. are living with sleep apnea today, and 80 percent of them have undiagnosed moderate to severe untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)—one of the three types of sleep apnea.
The position you sleep in has a huge influence on the quality of your sleep. After all, do you recall sleeping well in an uncomfortable position? Perhaps you’re one of the lucky folks who can sleep anywhere, but for most people, their comfort and sleep position are key to whether or not they’re sleeping comfortably and ultimately, sleeping well.
If you’re currently receiving continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy and you’re a side sleeper, finding the best CPAP mask for side sleeping is key to a good night’s rest.
What Is the Best CPAP Mask for Side Sleepers?
Side sleeping is often the recommended sleeping position since it can help alleviate insomnia and provide digestive relief for conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The ideal mask for a side sleeper needs to have the following features:
- Flexibility. When you lay on your side, your mask may press against the side of your face and feel uncomfortable, so that’s why your mask must be flexible if you’re a side sleeper.
- Soft-Yet-Durable Construction. A side sleeper’s mask must stay on even when their head is pressed against their pillow, so it must be durable. However, it also needs to be made of a durable material that can withstand that amount of pressure to its sides over its lifetime.
- Comfort. To ensure that comfort and durability, masks for side sleepers often feature a cloth surface where the mask and face meet as well as soft-touch buckles.
The bulk of a full face mask, for instance, makes it difficult for those who tend to sleep on their side because of the chances of it becoming displaced while in this side sleeping position.
So, what’s the best CPAP mask for side sleepers then? People who sleep on their sides can consider a nasal pillow mask or a nasal mask, and both have their own sets of benefits.
What Is a Nasal Pillow CPAP Mask?
Also referred to as nasal cushions, nasal pillow CPAP masks are a smaller-sized mask. These masks are simple to wear while sleeping since they rest right under your nostrils and come with unobtrusive headgear.
You insert your nasal pillow mask at the outer edges of your nostrils, rather than over your entire nose and it rests right above your upper lip. The two pillows or cushions seal to your nose and deliver pressure more directly than some other CPAP masks.
Pros of Nasal Pillow Masks
There are many benefits to nasal pillow masks, including:
- Maintains a Good Seal
- Provides Better Vision than Full Face Masks or Nasal CPAP Masks
- Good for People with Claustrophobia Who May Object to Having Something Taking Up Their Face
- Work Well for Those With Facial Hair
- Reduce Air Leakage Amount Because They Direct Air Right into Your Nasal Passages
- Work Well if You Wear Glasses Because They Don’t Cover the Bridge of Your Nose
Cons of Nasal Pillow Masks
With so many different kinds of CPAP masks, it’s no surprise that nasal pillows—and all other kinds of CPAP masks—also have downsides. Some disadvantages of nasal pillow masks include:
- Issues With Higher Pressure Settings. Nasal pillows direct airflow straight into your nasal passages, so if you require higher pressures this may be uncomfortable.
- Nosebleeds and Nasal Dryness. Some CPAP wearers report higher incidences of nosebleeds or nasal dryness due to the direct air pressure. If you are not used to nose-breathing, a nasal pillow CPAP mask might not be for you.
- Not Ideal for Mouth-Breathers. If you are a mouth-breather you should look into investing in a CPAP mask chin-strap to go with your nasal pillow mask. This is because the seal must remain snug for you to receive adequate therapy, and if you open your mouth during treatment, you won’t receive enough air.
Now that you know some of the pros and cons of nasal pillow masks, check out our guide for the best nasal pillow CPAP masks.
What Is a Nasal CPAP Mask?
Also referred to as an oronasal mask, a CPAP nasal mask is worn only over your nose. It has a rounded, triangular-shaped dome and is meant to fit the contours of your face comfortably. Nasal masks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, which makes them a good choice since there’s a mask that can fit just about any face.
Nasal CPAP masks deliver pressurized air through a tube into the space of the mask. You’re supposed to inhale the air only through your nose, making it a good mask for people who naturally breathe through their nose and require a higher pressure setting.
Pros of Nasal CPAP Masks
The nasal CPAP mask has many benefits as well, including:
- Indirect and Natural Airflow for a Feeling of Breathing More Naturally
- Less Surface Area to Seal as Opposed to a Full Face Mask and Thus Less Risk of CPAP Mask Air Leaks
- Works Better than Nasal Pillows for Higher Pressure Settings
- A Variety of Styles to Cater to Almost Any Facial Feature and Structure
- Well-Suited for Active Sleepers (i.e.: Those Who Toss and Turn While Asleep)
Cons of Nasal CPAP Masks
Nasal CPAP masks also have some downsides, which include:
- Skin Irritation. Some CPAP wearers may experience irritation from mask pressure on the bridge of their nose.
- Not Ideal for Chronic Sinus Problems. If you have a history of cold and allergies and/or sinus blockages, a nasal CPAP mask may not be right for you as it relies solely on nose breathing.
- Mouth-Breathing. Like nasal pillow masks, these are also not the greatest choice if you’re a mouth breather. Although just like the nasal pillow mask, you can use a chin-strap to keep your mouth closed.
- Airway-Related Medical Conditions. A nasal mask may not be the best choice if you find it hard to breathe through your nose due to certain medical conditions, like a deviated septum, narrowed or collapsed nasal valve, or enlarged turbinates.
Nasal Pillow vs Nasal Mask: Which Is Best For You?
Nasal pillows are a lightweight and compact CPAP mask option, designed to have minimal contact with your face. They are ideal for those requiring low to moderate pressure settings because the air is delivered directly to your nostrils and could be uncomfortable at higher settings. They also reduce air leakage since the air goes straight to your nostrils.
On the other hand, nasal CPAP masks are made for comfort and easy adjustment. The cushion uses a variety of thickness levels, offering a reliable seal for all nasal and facial structures. Its frame is flexible and adapts to any movement you might make during the night.
Both nasal pillow and nasal CPAP masks make it easy for side sleepers to change their position without readjusting their mask. The mask has a plush, soft headgear that helps reduce marks and pressure when you sleep on your side.
Who Are Nasal Pillow Masks Ideal For?
A doctor or sleep specialist might recommend a nasal pillow CPAP mask if you experience claustrophobia when you wear larger masks, toss and turn while sleeping, have a lot of facial hair, and breathe through your nose.
Nasal pillows have dual-wall flaps that provide comfort and ergonomic support while you sleep. Nasal pillow masks have a built-in flexible chamber, ensuring the mask stays in place even if you shift from side to side. The set of soft wraps and silicone-based headgear are made to maintain the seal of the mask.
Who Are Nasal CPAP Masks Ideal For?
With nasal CPAP masks, the pressure is delivered less directly into your mask, so it feels like you’re breathing regular air. People who toss and turn or like sleeping on their side can benefit from a nasal mask. However, individuals with nasal or sinus problems like head colds or allergies might find this type of mask uncomfortable when they are dealing with one of these conditions.
When you use the wrong type of mask, you can run into issues like the lifting of the mask, pulling it off while sleeping, and leaks. These all can lead to a failure of compliance.
Comfort, fit, and size are all important considerations when choosing the best CPAP mask. If your mask isn’t comfortable, doesn’t fit, or fails to meet your breathing requirements, chances are you won’t stay compliant with your CPAP therapy.
The good news is today you have lots of choices. At CPAP.com, we carry more than 1,000 products, including more than 200 CPAP masks, so you’re sure to find one that fits you like a glove.
David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it’s like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient’s perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.