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The 3 Types of Sleep Apnea to Know

Central sleep apnea can arise for a number of reasons, including congestive heart failure, stroke, or even from sleeping at high altitudes or taking a heavy dose of opiates.

The central sleep apnea symptoms can be similar to those of obstructive sleep apnea. According to the Mayo Clinic, they include:

  • Waking abruptly in the night, along with shortness of breath
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Snoring
  • Morning headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Observed episodes of abnormal breathing patterns or not breathing while sleeping

What are some central sleep apnea treatment options?

Central sleep apnea treatment varies, depending on why the sleep apnea is occurring. For example, if central sleep apnea is caused by congestive heart failure, it would be treated by treating the congestive heart failure, Dr. Becker tells SELF. Other treatments include supplemental oxygen, CPAP, reducing the dosage for opioid medications, or a therapy called bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP). BiPAP is a form of airway pressure therapy that delivers pressure when you breathe in and a different amount of pressure when you breathe out.

What is mixed sleep apnea?

Mixed sleep apnea is a form of sleep apnea that combines obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Sometimes one form will be more predominant than the other, meaning someone may have a bit more of the obstructive sleep apnea component or a bit more of the central sleep apnea component, Dr. Becker says.

What are some mixed sleep apnea treatment options?

Typically, CPAP is used to treat mixed sleep apnea, because in many cases, this therapy can effectively address the presentation of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. There are rare cases where treating obstructive sleep apnea with CPAP therapy can trigger something called complex sleep apnea (also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea), physicians say. This is when someone with obstructive sleep apnea develops central sleep apnea because of the CPAP treatment. Sometimes this resolves with continued CPAP treatment, but in other cases, additional treatments are necessary10.

Here’s what you should know about a sleep apnea diagnosis. 

Sleep apnea can vary in severity from one person to the next. “Sleep apnea affects everyone differently,” Dr. Holfinger says. “While some people may have severe symptoms with very few sleep apnea events, others may not be able to tell that their sleep is affected at all in the presence of severe sleep apnea.”

Research3 shows that upwards of 80% of people with obstructive sleep apnea go undiagnosed. This may be due to a lack of awareness of sleep apnea risk factors and low screening rates among people with comorbidities like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

Doctors use a bunch of different assessments to screen for and diagnose sleep apnea. These can include a sleep history that looks at your typical sleep patterns and habits, symptoms, a physical exam, and a polysomnogram, which is a sleep study that can take place at home or in a sleep center to collect data on measures like air flow, carbon dioxide levels, oxygen levels, eye movement, and heart rate. These measures help your doctor understand whether or not you have sleep apnea, and what type of sleep apnea you have.

These days, home sleep studies are becoming more and more common, allowing people to undergo this testing from the convenience and comfort of their own home, Dr. Becker tells SELF. If you suspect you or a loved one may have sleep apnea, it’s important to see a doctor, because sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment are important in preventing future complications. Getting treatment can not only help you feel better, but it can also help you be proactive in caring for your overall health.  


1. Nature and Science of Sleep, Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Current Perspectives

2. Journal of Thoracic Disease, Obstructive Sleep Apnea Is a Common Disorder In the Population

3. Expert Review of Cardiovascular Therapy, Cardiovascular Disease Risk Reduction with Sleep Apnea Treatment

4. Chinese Medical Journal, Treatment-Emergent Central Sleep Apnea: A Unique Sleep-Disordered Breathing


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