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About the Different Types of Sleep Disordered Breathing

Sleep disordered breathing is one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation, and encompasses a wide variety of different sleeping disorders resulting from breathing difficulties during the night. For those suffering from one of these conditions, there is normally some sort of upper respiratory problem that leads to the breathing problems, which in turn disrupt the individual's normal sleeping patterns.

If you are one of the millions of people suffering from a form of sleep disordered breathing, it is imperative that you get the diagnosis and treatment you need to enable you to sleep properly, otherwise your condition could eventually lead to other, potentially more dangerous consequences for your overall level of health and well-being.

SDB is a general term that can be applied to any breathing or respiratory problems that occur specifically while sleeping and result in disruption of sleep or lowered quality of sleep. Some of the disorders in this group are quite rare, while others rank among the most common sleeping disorders. 

What's more, these various breathing problems can be caused by a wide range of factors, including mental issues, central nervous system disorders, and even simple physical or environmental factors such as being overweight or drinking alcohol before going to sleep.

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Far and away the most common of all types of sleep disordered breathing is obstructive sleep apnea. This disorder is characterized by complete cessations in breathing for short periods during the night, which are caused by an obstruction of the upper respiratory path. 

The actual source of the obstruction can vary quite widely, and can be anything from having too large of a tongue or a deviated nasal septum to simply having too much excess fat around the neck and chest or taking certain drugs or medications such as narcotics, sedatives, or alcohol.

  • sleep disordered breathingCentral Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is closely related to obstructive sleep apnea, as both conditions result in the person repeatedly fully stopping breathing throughout the night. However, central sleep apnea is a much more rare condition, which results from some other medical condition that interferes with the brain's ability to properly regulate breathing. 

Some of the conditions known to contribute to central sleep apnea include strokes, congestive heart failure, damage to the brain, brain stem, or spinal cord, and other neurological or muscular problems and disorders. In addition, it may also be a result of long term usage of certain drugs and medication such as narcotics and opiates. 

  • Sleep Hypopnea

Another common form of SDB is sleep hypopnea, which is similar to sleep apnea, except that in this case there is only a reduction in breathing rate or level instead of a full pause. These episodes can last anywhere from a few short seconds to well over a minute. Again, they are typically caused by partial obstructions of the airways, although there are also many cases of central sleep hypopnea as well.

  • sleep disordered breathingCheyne-Stokes Respiration

Cheyne-Stokes respiration (CSR) is another sleep breathing disorder that results in increased and then decreased breathing patterns

It can be caused by a variety of different factors, including congestive heart failure and any resulting physiological abnormalities; damage to the brain stem which affects the respiratory center; and acute high altitude exposure (normally above 15,000 feet). 

It can occur both during the day and night, and there is some debate as to whether or not nighttime Cheyne-Stokes respiration should be grouped together with central sleep apnea. However, not all forms of CSR result in a total cessation of breathing, so most doctors agree that they are two separate conditions. 

Effects of Sleep Disordered Breathing

As mentioned previously, one of the biggest long term effects of sleep breathing disorders is sleep deprivation, which can in turn cause a whole host of other health problems. The majority of people with suffering from any form of SDB often complain about feeling fatigued and a constant lack of energy. Still, this is far from the only effect.


The total cessations or reductions in breathing that result from the various forms of SDB result in hypoxia, a condition where the level of oxygen in the bloodstream drops below normal levels. This resulting drop in blood oxygen concentration is one of the major factors leading to the various other health risks associated with SDB.


Similarly, as breathing decreases or stops and the level of oxygen in the blood stream goes down, the level of carbon dioxide in the blood stream rises to above normal levels. This condition, known as hypercapnia, produces a natural reflex in the body which normally results in the person waking up for a brief moment so that they can resume normal breathing functions. 

However, in some cases this reflex can fail to be triggered, which can be fatal. Although this is extremely rare, it has been known to happen, especially in cases of central sleep apnea or where the SDB is a result of taking sedative or hypnotic drugs and medications.

Diagnosing and Treating Sleep Disordered Breathing

sleep disordered breathingIn order to properly diagnose SDB and determine what is causing it, it is normally necessary to undergo a sleep study, where you will spend a night in a sleep clinic, connected to machines which continuously measure certain vital signs, most importantly your rate of breathing and the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide concentration in your blood.

After your doctor looks at the results, they will then determine which sleep breathing disorder you are suffering from, before finalizing a course of treatment for your disorder. The actual treatment will vary both on the type of SDB you have and how severe it is. 

However, if it is determined that you suffer from a more severe sleep breathing disorder, you will most likely be told you will need to use a CPAP or Bi-PAP machine while sleeping. 

This machine will force a continuous flow of air into your lungs, allowing you to continue breathing properly throughout the night and resulting in an increased quality of sleep.

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