Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is a less common type of apnea during which a person completely stops breathing during the night for a period of time that usually lasts between a few seconds and a few minutes. These pauses in breathing can happen many times per hour. The number of these pauses during an hour is used to calculate the AHI, or Apnea-Hypopnea Index, which dictates the strength of the central sleep apnea syndrome in a person.

Unlike with obstructive sleep apnea, during CSA a person does not stop breathing because his airways are obstructed. The sufferer stops breathing because the brain stops sending the signal to do so. This leads to a decrease in blood oxygen levels. This drop further stimulates the brain respiratory center to breathe and this can lead to faster breathing than normal and increased heart rate after the episode of apnea.

Signs and symptoms of central sleep apnea

Without a proper sleep test, it is very hard to detect CSA. As with any type of sleep apnea, however, the following symptoms will be present:

  • Pauses in breathing while asleep
  • Restless sleep
  • Excessive fatigue during the day

In addition, these symptoms can be indicators of the presence of a sleep apnea disorder:

  • Morning headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Mood changes
  • Forgetfulness
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Digestive problems

Who is at risk?

CSA can happen to anyone. People who take certain medicine such as some tranquilizers or alcohol in excessive dose are more subject to develop CSA.

Dangers of untreated central sleep apnea

Breathing is completely absent during CSA and no effort is made by the brain to breathe despite the lowering of the oxygen level in the blood. This can have dire consequences if left untreated such as:

  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Heart attacks
  • At worst, sudden death

It is very important to consult a doctor if you suspect you suffer from CSA.


After positive diagnosis during a sleep test (also called polysomnography), a health specialist can offer a treatment option depending on the specific cause of the CSA. The most common treatment is the use of a CPAP machine while sleep. It is a respiratory aid device that comes with a mask placed on the person’s head. This mask will supply him or her with oxygen throughout the night. Advanced machines such as the adaptive servo-ventilation will even match the patient’s breathing and compensate only when it detects a period of apnea.

Central sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that can have great consequences on the health of a human being. If you suspect you or someone you know has CSA, make sure to contact a doctor or sleep specialist.

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