Non-invasive ventilation (NIV) is a safe, versatile and effective technique that can avert side effects and complications associated with endotracheal intubation. The success of NIV relies on several factors, including the type and severity of acute respiratory failure, the underlying disease, the location of treatment, and the experience of the team. The time factor is also important. NIV is primarily used to avert the need for endotracheal intubation in patients with early-stage acute respiratory failure and post-extubation respiratory failure. It can also be used as an alternative to invasive ventilation at a more advanced stage of acute respiratory failure or to facilitate the process of weaning from mechanical ventilation. NIV has been used to prevent development of acute respiratory failure or post-extubation respiratory failure. The number of days of NIV and hours of daily use differ, depending on the severity and course of the acute respiratory failure and the timing of application. In this review article, we analyse, compare and discuss the results of studies in which NIV was applied at various times during the evolution of acute respiratory failure.