Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is a condition caused by interruptions in brain signals that keep breathing from occurring naturally during sleep. This differs from obstructive sleep apnea, which is what the majority of sleep apnea suffers have. In obstructive sleep apnea, normal breathing is interrupted by an airway obstruction as opposed to a wrong or missing signal from the brain.

Conversely, central apnea is generally seen in patients who are very sick. Men, people with heart disorders, and drug users are more at risk for having this type of problem.


The central form of the disorder affects only about 5 percent of all sleep apnea sufferers, usually is caused by an underlying health problem. Often, this health issue affects the brain stem, which in turn controls breathing.

Some of the medical problems that can lead to this type of sleep disorder include:

  • encephalitis
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • arthritis at the base of the skull
  • obesity
  • stroke
  • certain medications
  • congestive heart failure
  • sleeping at high altitude

As you can see, many of the causes of this type of sleep apnea are severe and chronic health problems.


Many of the symptoms of this form of sleep disorder are the same as obstructive sleep apnea. They include noticeable disruptions of breath during sleep, fatigue, daytime sleepiness, snoring, and headache.

Additionally, people who suffer from this disorder may experience difficulty swallowing, voice changes, or weakness or numbness in other areas of the body. They may breathe better when they are sitting up as opposed to lying down.


Treatment for central sleep apnea usually consists of a sleep study, which may be performed at a qualified sleep center. You may need to spend the night in order to be observed.

Once diagnosed, the sleep disorder may be treated with continuous positive airway pressure, which is known as a CPAP machine. A newer airflow device known as Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) may also be used.

Occasionally drugs to stimulate breathing may be required. If the problem is caused by an underlying disease, treatment of that disorder may also help.

You may also need a heart specialist or nervous system specialist if your condition points to problems in those areas of the body. It is critical to see a physician right away if you are experiencing problems breathing during sleep.

More About Sleep Apnea
Causes of Central Sleep Apnea
About Sleep Disorders

› Central Sleep Apnea

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