Battery operation of CPAP devices for sleep apnea treatment
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Battery Operation of CPAP Devices for Sleep Apnea Treatment, Part 1--Why bother with a back-up system?

by Jerry Halberstadt with Gary Collins, Charles Woodson, and Lawton Mullin; and Shane Finn and others at ResMed.

Why bother with a back-up system?

If you use CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, your physician has probably told you that you should never sleep without it. If you enjoy camping, sailing, or must travel, or if you have ever lost power at home, you may recognise the need for a source of alternative or backup electrical power for the CPAP unit. An alternative source of power can be used in the event of a power outage, while travelling, or on a camping or sailing trip. A battery backup system can be especially important for individuals who are very sensitive to the effects of untreated apnea or at special risk from sleeping without CPAP treatment. With the guidance of others who have found a way to solve these problems, I am now assured of being able to sleep with my CPAP while camping, sailing, canoeing, travelling or in the event of a power failure.

I have learned from personal experience the importance to me of sleeping only with CPAP. Not counting the years of undiagnosed and untreated fatigue and disaster, the few times when I haven't used my CPAP have turned me into a zombie for days. A few years ago I was ready to go to bed at a friend's home after a quiet New Year's evening when I discovered I had neglected to pack a critical connector for my CPAP. It was too late, I was too tired to drive the two hours to my place and the hazards of the road dictated I stay put. I 'slept' sitting up in the living room. I was a useless wreck the next day, and although I used the CPAP that night and thereafter, I did not recover for three days. This should have been my wake up call to set up a battery backup. A couple of partial power failures (leaving part of the house with power) and even short outages didn't get my attention. Besides, I wasn't sure how to rig up a battery backup system. Earlier this summer, I was forced to turn back and drive home, as my son shouldered his pack and began a weekend hike into the wilderness. I had no way to power my CPAP away from the normal household electric mains. We talked about perhaps finding a portable power solution so that I could enjoy an overnight canoe trip. Or so I might one day be able to do a long sailing cruise.

Recently, prompted by discussions in, I started to collect information and do research. Towards the end of the year I felt I was ready to make my purchases, but decided to wait until after New Year's in order to avoid the crush of Holiday shopping. On New Year's eve I again spent a quiet, early evening and was ready to retire by 12:30. However, someone decided to steal a truck and promptly used it like a bowling ball (it was snowing lightly) to knock down three power poles. The whole area went black. After I checked the fuses in the house and called the Electric Company, I learned it would be at least 3 hours before power could be restored, meaning that I couldn't get to sleep until at least 5 AM! Weary, I packed my CPAP and toiletries, and drove through fog until I found a motel, finally getting to bed at 3 AM!

When the stores reopened for business, I started my shopping. When I finished, I had a battery, a battery charger, and an inverter that makes the kind of electricity my CPAP can use, along with sundry and various other gadgets. I added distilled water to the battery, attached the battery charger to the battery and plugged in the battery charger, and let the battery store up electricity for a couple of days. After testing the ability of the system to run the CPAP for several hours, I knew that I was ready for the next trick of fate. The next time the power fails, I will turn on my flashlight and don my protective glasses. Then I would disconnect the charger from the battery, connect the inverter to the battery and connect the CPAP to the inverter using an extension cord, turn everything on, and go back to sleep. Next time the power goes out, sleep will be mine to enjoy! And my hopes of going sailing, canoeing, and camping have become less a dream and more a real possibility.

Alternative and backup power supplies

The technical options

Several technical possibilities exist, depending on your CPAP and your application. You can adapt the available electrical source, or provide your own power source.

  1. While travelling by airplane or train you may be able to use the vehicle power supply for your CPAP. International travel adds special requirements to deal with different electrical standards and outlets. (For details, read Phantom of the Night.)
  2. If you need a power source for use while travelling by car, recreational vehicle, or boat; or for camping, you may be able to use the battery power available in the vehicle. Your vehicle battery may be capable of supporting several hours of use. Depending on the climate and your adaptability, you might be able to use your car battery as an emergency power supply, and sleep in the car if your home mains supply is interrupted. You may be able to run your CPAP directly from the car battery or you may need to use an electrical inverter to adapt the electrical output. On a boat you may have to find a way to convert the power source of the boat, depending on your CPAP requirements. Be sure to confirm with the skipper that the boat electrical system has sufficient reserve for your needs.
  3. At home or while camping you may need to create a stand-alone backup system. Also, if you are travelling by car, you may wish to be free of the automobile or not want to use the car battery during sleep. You would be able to use the backup system.
  4. Some CPAPs run internally at 12VDC, and only require a connecting cord to a suitable 12V battery. In this case you would need a battery (possibly a car battery but it is better to use a deep-cycle battery) and a charging device.
  5. However, other CPAPs may require normal mains voltage, i.e., 115VAC. The manufacturer of your CPAP may provide a voltage inverter to adapt the battery output to the needs of the CPAP. WARNING: Using an unapproved electrical source could void your warranty and damage your CPAP device.
  6. You could purchase a commercially produced standby power system or an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) such as those made for use in computer installations. Although there are systems which provide clean power output at all times, drawing from the mains until a power outage, and then switching instantly to battery backup, they are more complex (and expensive) than needed to provide a source of stand-by power. The stand-by systems which only need to be connected and turned on when the mains electrical supply fails are probably more appropriate. Purchasing such a commercially available system would simplify the task of providing emergency power.
  7. Ask your home care company about medical-grade backup power supply systems.
  8. I have not considered the use of a portable generator because they seem to introduce additional hazards and complexity as well as noise.
  9. Finally, you can, if you have the technical background, assemble your own battery backup system. You are hereby advised to obtain the services of a qualified electrician and to read the Safety Warnings.
  10. Do NOT attempt to run a heated humidifier from an inverter or battery backup system.Warning against using heated humidifier


This document provides information only. The reader is warned that he/she is solely responsible for any use made of this information. Making, installing, and using a battery backup system can damage CPAP equipment, or cause personal injury, fire, or explosion. Therefore, the services of a qualified electrician should be used. The Safety Warnings are part of this document and should be read together with it. Do not use a heated humidifier with an inverted electrical output. Safety Warnings

(Phantom Sleep Newsletters: Apnea series, #1)


The technical information which helped me create my battery back up system and this newsletter is based on correspondence with CPAP users: Gary Collins, Charles Woodson, and Lawton Mullins; and Shane Finn and others at ResMed ResMed Home Page . Their materials are used with permission. Gary lives on a mountainside and is plagued by frequent power outages. His electrical knowledge and creativity have been important inputs for this article. Charles enjoys camping and travel and is able to use his car battery while he sleeps. Lawton is determined to enjoy his canoe camping trips. I appreciate the advice and information provided to me but warn the reader not to rely solely on this information. Reference has been made to manuals of manufacturers including Schumacher, Power-to-Go, RadioShack, and EverStart, and to Phantom of the Night.

Copyright & appropriate use

Copyright © 1997 New Technology Publishing, Inc. The reader is responsible for any uses or interpretations made of the information provided, and is urged to obtain the services of a qualified electrician before purchasing, assembling, or installing a battery backup system or any device or system discussed herein.

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