Over 18 million Americans struggle with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea interferes with sleep—the victim’s own and others because of the associated snoring and snorting. It also can contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure.
It’s treatable with a “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure” device or CPAP. The device maintains an airflow into the throat, keeping the airway clear. It prevents apnea episodes and, helpfully, reduces snoring.
Many CPAP machines are bulky, and weigh in at around three pounds. The weight is not an issue at home but can be problematic while traveling. They can take up room in a carryon bag, although many have their own travel cases. Since they’re approved medical devices, carrying them separately should not count against your carry-on allowance.
It's another three pounds on your back that you’d rather not carry. They just aren’t readily portable.
One solution to the bulkiness of the full-size CPAP machine is a mini-CPAP. Over the past few years, several manufacturers have produced these devices, which weigh in at less than a pound, and are far less bulky.
One of the advantages of mini-CPAP machines is flexibility. Many include adapters to allow charging in a variety of locations. Some will plug into car cigarette lighter outlets. Some can connect with solar chargers, while others will plug into airplane seat chargers.
A mini-CPAP is easier to use while flying overnight. It takes up less space and therefore, for the self-conscious, might be less obtrusive. Given the sardine-like nature of air travel, it makes everyone in your row a tad more comfortable.
They work well during camping trips, also, if you have the solar-powered recharging equipment. You may be able to keep it in your pack during the day, with the charging equipment out. You’d be hiking and charging at the same time—note that many of the solar charging options are rather large.
If you live in an area with frequent power outages, the ability to charge batteries is also a feature of the mini-CPAP. Several models allow the purchase of additional batteries, which will give you several nights of sleep without recharging.
One disadvantage is, of course, the need to charge the device. If you plan to use it several nights in a row, you’ll need to have a way to ensure it works.
Some people have found that the “feel” of the air is different in a mini-CPAP. Some settings may require more work than others.
Some users report some design issues with some mini-CPAPs. They have found the on/off switch difficult to find, for example. Some have found them to be loud, and others find them flimsy because of the small size.
One commonly noted problem is recharging on airplanes. The charging unit easily falls out of the charging station. The charging unit may be too heavy, or the plugs may be loose from overuse.
Mini-CPAPs also tend to be more expensive than regular CPAP machines. While prices do vary from product-to-product, you can expect to pay a bit more. Shop around.
Selecting a mini-CPAP
Before you buy a mini-CPAP, think through how you’re going to use it. If it’s simply a backup because you live in a place with frequent power failures, you won’t need accessories. But remember comfortable accessories and mask are key to consistently using your CPAP.
If most of your travel is done by day and you spend nights in hotels, you probably don’t need much in the way of accessories. You’ll be able to charge your mini-CPAP during the day, leaving it at the hotel. Some brands may carry an all-in-one charging case which may give you the flexibility you need.
If you go outdoors frequently, however, you’ll need to think about battery power and charging. The solar options are a bit large for hiking use, however. Extra batteries take weight which is crucial for backpacking.
Think through your needs and become familiar with all the possible accessories the mini-CPAPs you look at have. You may be able to get a better deal if you buy them at the time you buy your machine, or at least buy them together. You want to make sure you have a device to use every night to reduce your sleep apnea and snoring.
Read the reviews. Performance seems to vary across the brands, with some being noisier than others. Some design issues take away from the utility—awkwardly placed humidifiers or on/off switches especially are noted.
On balance, if your budget allows, you should consider a mini-CPAP, especially if you travel a great deal. The flexibility, lighter weight, and lower bulk should make life just a bit easier.