Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder. People who suffer from it experience cessation of the airway during the night, which leads to lower oxygen levels, and can have serious consequences.

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Last Updated: Thu, October 3, 2019

Central sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder. People who suffer from it experience cessation of the airway during the night, which leads to lower oxygen levels, and can have serious consequences. Central sleep apnea (CSA) is caused by the brain not properly delivering signals to the muscles that control your breathing. It is different than obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) that is caused by some obstruction of the airway.

Central sleep apnea is often connected to some underlying neurological or cardiovascular conditions, and it is more frequent during non-REM sleep. CSA can be an indicator of a severe illness affecting the lower brainstem, a part of your central nervous system that controls breathing patterns.

CSA can increase the risk of diabetes, stroke, obesity, heart-related conditions, and high blood pressure. It also increases the chances of accidents while driving or working, which can endanger your safety.

We’ll look into the common symptoms of central sleep apnea, what causes it, and how doctors diagnose and treat this condition.


Central sleep apnea shares some symptoms with other sleep disorders, especially obstructive sleep apnea. Most commons symptoms are:

While snoring is typically a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, it can be an indicator of CSA. CSA caused by Parkinson’s disease or some other neurological conditions can have other symptoms like:

You should consult a medical professional if you experience any of these symptoms, especially shortness of breath that can wake you up, pauses in breathing during sleep, difficulty staying asleep, or excessive daytime drowsiness. Falling asleep can be particularly dangerous if it happens while you are working or driving. Sometimes, it is easier for your partner to notice some of these symptoms, so ask them to observe you for a short period during the night, and watch out for anything unusual.

Causes and Risk Factors

Central sleep apnea is caused by bad communication between the brain and muscles in charge of respiration. Brain’s signals are not interpreted well, or there are no signals, and that leads to hyperventilation (rapid breathing) or hypoventilation (slow breathing). Both of these alter the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in our bodies, which then affects the brain stem, a part of our central nervous system that is in charge of breathing.

Several factors can put you at risk of developing central sleep apnea:


Different Types of Central Sleep Apnea


Central Sleep Apnea vs. Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is different than obstructive sleep apnea. OSA is caused by some obstruction in the airway during sleep. Brain signals are standard, and an effort to breath is intact, but the problem is mechanical.

CSA is a condition in which the brain doesn’t emit right signals, so the muscles that are in charge of breathing don’t function the way they are supposed to. There is no effort to breathe, and it results in apnea.

CSA is a lot less common than OSA. It is estimated that around 20% of all people diagnosed with apneas suffer from CSA.


The doctor will review your medical history, medication use, and existing symptoms. They might ask you to keep a sleep diary for a week or two so that they have better insights into your sleeping patterns. You’ll include a series of information in a sleep diary, such as:

If your situation is complicated, they’ll most likely refer you to a sleep specialist for further diagnosis. Sleep specialists often collaborate with cardiologists and neurologists, and they’ll require you to stay at their facility for an overnight sleep study called polysomnogram.

Polysomnogram includes a series of tests that measure your brainwaves, breathing and heart rate, airflow and blood oxygen levels, eye movement, muscle activity and snoring. You might have a full or split-night sleep study.

In a split-night sleep study, you are observed during the first half of the night. If central apnea symptoms are persistent, sleep technicians will hook you up to a continuous positive airway pressure machine during the second part of the night. That way, they can track how you respond to the therapy, and adjust it if it’s needed.

Polysomnography will also make it easier for doctors to rule out other sleeping conditions that may have similar symptoms but require different therapy. Sometimes, they’ll order an MRI scan of your brain and heart, to better understand any underlying conditions you might have.


There are several treatment options for CSA, and they might include:


Central sleep apnea can be a dangerous medical condition if not treated well. If you notice any symptoms, pay a visit to your doctor, and they’ll know what to do. Even if you are not suffering from central sleep apnea, they might discover some other sleep disorders that are causing you problems. They’ll treat you accordingly and help you get a better night’s sleep.


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Dusan is a biologist, a science enthusiast and a huge nature lover. He loves to keep up to date with all the new research and write accurate science-based articles. When he’s not writing or reading, you can find him in the kitchen, trying out new delicious recipes; out in the wild, enjoying the nature or sleeping in his bed.

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