What Is Central Sleep Apnea Disorder?

January 22, 2020

What Is Central Sleep Apnea Disorder?

Central Sleep Apnea Disorder: A Definition

Most discussions or articles on the Internet about sleep apnea often focus on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) but sleep apnea comes in many different shapes and forms. Below, we are going to discuss another highly important sleep apnea disorder called central sleep apnea (CSA).

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is a sleep disorder characterized by the disruption of breathing patterns at regular intervals during a night’s sleep due to impaired brain functions. For a CSA patient, the brain is unable to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. When this happens, patients are not able to take a breath and then result in jerking awake, gasping for breath. 

This form of sleep apnea disorder is more common among older adults, especially those over the age of 65. Additionally, studies have found that men often develop CSA and other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea more than women.  

What Are The Main Causes Of This Chronic Sleep Disorder? 

The development of this chronic sleep disorder is generally believed to be caused by other underlying health conditions. Many sleep physicians believe that if you have any of the following health conditions that you may be a higher risk of developing central sleep apnea: 

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Hypothyroid disease
  • Neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease
  • Injury to the brainstem caused by stroke, brain injury or other factors

Certain medications such as narcotic painkillers have also been linked to the development of this sleep apnea disorder. Unlike OSA, central sleep apnea is most commonly caused by the existence of another health condition. If the sleep apnea is not found to be associated with another condition, it is known as idiopathic central sleep apnea.  

Central Sleep Apnea: Common Symptoms

Many sleep apnea disorders often share common symptoms and CSA is no exception. Similarly to OSA, this chronic sleep disorder impacts energy levels, sleep quality and cognitive functioning. Below we list the symptoms that are most commonly associated with central sleep apnea. 

Abnormal Breathing Patterns

As with all forms of sleep apnea, the tell-tale symptom of CSA is an abnormal breathing pattern while you sleep. CSA patients will experience short periods of time in which breathing stops either completely or becomes very shallow. As this is caused by a disruption of the brain’s respiratory drive, it is vital to get a sleep study carried out by a sleep physician to determine the severity of the condition and to draw up a treatment plan. 

Waking At Night Abruptly 

Due to the breathing abnormalities being caused by a lack of signals being sent from the brain to the airway muscles, it is normal for CSA patients to wake abruptly at night. This is because if our breathing is disrupted either entirely or just below normal levels, our brain starts to become starved of oxygen. 

When our brain starts to receive less oxygen, it causes a signal to be released which is essentially a “knee jerk” reaction that causes the patient to wake up abruptly. Many CSA patients note how they often wake up suddenly coughing and gasping for air. 

Excessive Tiredness

People who suffer from chronic sleep disorders, especially central sleep apnea, often note that they feel excessively tired during the day. This is because their sleep quality has been impacted tremendously. 

Continuous nights of interrupted sleep impact an individual’s ability to function correctly throughout the day. You may notice that you have a headache in the mornings, feel less focused and productive than normal. Have you ever fallen asleep at work? Always drift off when commuting on public transport? This is a sign that you are suffering from excessive tiredness. 


Snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea disorders. While this symptom is often associated more with obstructive sleep apnea as it indicates an airflow obstruction, it can also be present when you have central sleep apnea.

While it certainly won’t be as severe as with OSA, snoring excessively on a consistent basis when sleeping can be a telltale sign that you have a sleep apnea disorder. 

Difficulty Concentrating 

When we sleep well, we are giving our bodies the best environment to perform everyday cognitive functions to the best of our abilities. We are able to think clearly, make difficult decisions and remember information more easily.

However, when we have a chronic sleep disorder such as central sleep apnea this ability is impacted. With poor quality sleep, people find it harder to focus and pay attention which ultimately decreases performance levels. It can also alter and slow down reaction times making normal activities such as driving more dangerous. 

Mood Problems

CSA patients also can suffer from changes in mood. People with sleep apnea have been found to have lower levels of the hormone GABA and increased levels of the hormone, glutamate. GABA acts as a mood inhibitor whereas glutamate has the opposite effect.

When GABA levels are low and glutamate are high, it makes the brain stressed and lowers our ability to control our emotions. That is why many people who have little to no sleep on a continuous basis often experience mood swings. 

Treatment Options For This Sleep Apnea Disorder

If a sleep doctor suspects that you have central sleep apnea, the first course of action is to perform a physical exam and take a complete medical history. Following this, they will carry out a sleep study which will inform them of the severity of the apnea events that you are experiencing. 

Treatment for CSA is approached in a similar way to that of OSA. Many sleep physicians will prescribe a treatment for oxygen supplementation through the use of either CPAP machines, BiPAP machines or in some instances, adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV). 

However, as CSA is also largely associated with other health conditions, like the ones that we mentioned above, it is important that you ensure that you are getting the adequate treatment needed for those conditions also. Without treating the condition underlying CSA, it will not be possible to fully treat your sleep apnea. 

How To Know If It’s OSA Or CSA?

If you are unsure whether you suffer from central sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea, it is important that you get assessed by a sleep physician as soon as possible. Sleep professionals will help you to determine the cause of your poor sleep quality and will make a roadmap for treatment options. 

If you have been diagnosed with either OSA or CSA, our experts at CPAP Machines can help to make sure that you are purchasing the equipment that you need. Contact us today and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.

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