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What are the Different Types of Breathing-Related Sleep Disorders?

By Lisa Hernandez
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Individuals who suffer from sleep disturbance might have one of several breathing-related sleep disorders. Three types of disorders that are characterized by abnormal breathing during sleep are obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, central sleep apnea syndrome and central alveolar hypoventilation syndrome. When someone has one of the sleep apnea syndromes, he or she generally suffers from blocked airways, which impairs breathing. An individual who has central alveolar hypoventilation syndrome struggles with shallow breathing, which reduces oxygen in the blood. People who have one of these disorders typically struggle with excessive sleepiness during the day and difficulty sleeping at night.

Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is the most common of the breathing-related sleep disorders. It is marked by a blockage of the airways, resulting in loud snoring, gasps and pauses in breathing that can last from 10 to 60 seconds. This sleep disorder is more common among individuals who are overweight or who have enlarged tonsils or adenoids, which are the glands located between the nose and throat. Individuals who have this syndrome alternate between periods of deep sleep and light sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is more common in middle-aged men who are overweight.

Individuals who have central sleep apnea syndrome experience cessation in their breathing for short periods during sleep. Their brains fail to send signals to the muscles that control breathing during these periods. The reduction in breathing deprives them of necessary oxygen while increasing the amount of harmful carbon dioxide in their blood. Those who have this sleep disorder do not have an airway obstruction and might experience only light snoring. This syndrome is more common in the elderly and can be caused by cardiac or neurological conditions that affect breathing.

Central alveolar hypoventilation syndrome is another one of the breathing-related sleep disorders. Shallow breathing differentiates it from the other sleep disorders. When an individual is not breathing deeply enough, the lungs are limited in their capacity to supply sufficient amounts of oxygen to the blood. Symptoms of this sleep disorder are excessive sleepiness during the day and insomnia at night. This syndrome is more common among severely overweight individuals.

An otorhinolaryngologist, a physician who specializes in disorders of the ear, nose and throat, typically diagnoses and treats breathing-related sleep disorders. Individuals who have a sleep disorder might be evaluated in a sleep clinic, which utilizes a polysomnogram, or sleep study, to evaluate various activities associated with sleep. Sleep studies typically involve evaluating the heart rate, brain waves, oxygen levels and breathing patterns of people who have sleep disorders. Treatment of breathing-related sleep disorders can include weight loss, medication, therapy or surgery. One commonly used therapy is known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which has been in use since 1981 and delivers a constant flow of air through a mask worn during sleep.

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