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Central sleep apnea – causes, side effects and treatments at

Wednesday, February 07, 2018 by

Central sleep apnea is an uncommon condition wherein breathing repeatedly stops and starts over the course of sleep. Unlike obstructive sleep apnea which is caused by an airway blockage, central sleep apnea occurs due to the brain’s inability to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. It is also rare, and it only accounts for 20 percent of all cases of sleep apnea.

Having central sleep apnea is indicative of an underlying health issue. The five main categories of central sleep apnea include:

  • Primary central sleep apnea: This condition has no underlying cause and is common in older adult men. It’s believed that certain neurological conditions increase one’s risk of developing primary central sleep apnea.
  • Cheyne-Stokes respiration: This is a type of central sleep apnea characterized by the abnormal, rhythmic increase and decrease of breathing — usually because of heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure.
  • Non-Cheyne-Stokes medical conditions: This is the result of medical conditions such as heart problems, kidney issues, or irregularities at the base of the brain. As implied by the name, this lacks the distinct breathing pattern that marks Cheyne-Stokes respiration.
  • High-altitude periodic breathing: Though the breathing pattern is similar to that of Cheyne-Stokes respiration, periodic high-altitude breathing differs in that it’s caused by sleeping at altitudes higher than 15,000 ft (5,000 m).
  • Drug or substance use-related breathing: Certain medications can lead to this form of central sleep apnea, namely opioid drugs. This is because these medicines are potent painkillers that can bring about irregular breathing or cause breathing to stop temporarily.

Known side effects of central sleep apnea

Apnea, or the brief cessation of breathing, is the identifying symptom for the condition, followed by intermittent periods of very shallow breathing. In addition to this, people who have it exhibit the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Poor concentration and memory

If neurological conditions cause central sleep apnea, other symptoms may then appear:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • General weakness
  • Speech pattern changes
  • Voice changes

Body systems harmed by central sleep apnea

Left untreated, central sleep apnea can result in a variety of health complications. For instance, lack of sleep can lead to depression, anxiety, and other psychological conditions, meaning that central sleep apnea can negatively impact the brain. Among children, this can cause them to display behavioral problems.

Having central sleep apnea can result in blood oxygen level dips, which in turn can elevate one’s blood pressure. This stresses out the cardiovascular system and increases a person’s susceptibility to heart attack, stroke, and heart rhythm disorders.

People with central sleep apnea are also known to be more prone to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, and sexual dysfunction.

Food items or nutrients that may prevent central sleep apnea

Although there are no foods that can indeed prevent central sleep apnea (this entails making permanent lifestyle changes), there are some foods that can reduce this condition’s symptoms. These are:

  • Garlic: Consuming two to three cloves of garlic a day increases the efficacy of its anti-inflammatory properties. As such, breathing while sleeping is easier. Garlic can also help shrink enlarged nostrils to decrease the frequency and intensity of snoring.
  • Turmeric milk: While turmeric minimizes respiratory inflammation, milk promotes better sleep. Combining the two in one beverage can lead to more restful sleep, according to
  • Chamomile: This plant has soothing compounds that cause sedation and relax the muscles and nerves, encouraging sleepiness. Moreover, chamomile has an anti-inflammatory effect that helps reduce inflammation in the respiratory system and makes it easier to breathe during sleep.

Treatments, management plans for central sleep apnea

The primary goal of central sleep apnea treatment is to identify and manage the underlying health conditions that could be causing it. For example, medication may be given to control nervous system or cardiovascular conditions, or to stimulate breathing. Other cases may require the affected person to stop using opioid drugs.

Two treatments are usually given to patients with central sleep apnea:

  • Bi-level Positive Air Pressure (BiPAP): This is designed to help patients breathe easier and more regularly during sleep. When inhaling, a BiPAP machine will adjust the air pressure to a higher level; when exhaling, a BiPAP machine will decrease it. Undergoing BiPAP treatment will call for wearing a face mask over one’s nose and mouth while sleeping.
  • Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV): Unlike other PAP machines, an ASV machine supports regular breathing instead of focusing on delivering pressure. ASV machines provide further stabilization by helping keep the airways open.

As was mentioned earlier, lifestyle changes can positively contribute towards normalized breathing. These lifestyle modifications include:

  • Maintaining or losing weight
  • Smoking and alcohol cessation
  • Side sleeping

Where to learn more


Central sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that results in an individual’s breathing stopping and starting during sleep. Some cases of central sleep apnea have no known cause, while others can be caused by underlying medical conditions or opioid usage. People with central sleep apnea can experience such symptoms as daytime sleepiness, restless sleep, and snoring. If no treatment is provided, this can then lead to more severe health complications, like heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

Treating central apnea will typically call for diagnosing and treating the health issue causing it in the first place. In some cases, PAP machines may be required. The severity of central sleep apnea can be lessened by making lifestyle modifications such as quitting smoking and drinking, and losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight.

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