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Central sleep apnoea

Central sleep apnoea disrupts a person's breathing because of problems in the brain or lung muscles.

A person with central sleep apnoea may appear to stop breathing for periods of time. Disruption to sleep at night is common, causing tiredness during the day.

Central sleep apnoea is a separate condition to obstructive sleep apnoea where the walls of the throat narrow during sleep.

Who gets central sleep apnoea?

Central sleep apnoea is often associated with other conditions. One form of central sleep apnoea, however, has no known cause and is not associated with any other disease. In addition, central sleep apnoea can occur with obstructive sleep apnoea, or it can occur alone.

Conditions that may be associated with central sleep apnoea include the following:

What are the symptoms of central sleep apnoea?

The main symptom of central sleep apnoea is temporary stoppages of breathing while sleeping. While snoring is a very strong symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea, snoring may not always be found with central sleep apnoea.

Symptoms may also include:

  • Being very tired during the day
  • Waking up often during the night
  • Going to the toilet often during the night
  • Having headaches in the early morning
  • Poor memory and difficulty concentrating
  • Mood problems

How is central sleep apnoea diagnosed?

If you have some of these symptoms, or if a family member or bed partner notices that you stop breathing while sleeping, you should talk to your doctor about the possibility of sleep apnoea.

Your doctor is likely to perform a physical examination, take a medical history, and recommend a sleep history. The next step will probably be an overnight sleep study called a polysomnogram. This test is performed in a sleep laboratory under the direct supervision of a trained technologist. During the test, the following body functions may be monitored:

  • Electrical activity of the brain
  • Eye movements
  • Muscle activity
  • Heart rate
  • Breathing patterns
  • Air flow
  • Blood oxygen levels

After the study is completed, the technologist will count the number of times that breathing is impaired during sleep and then grade the severity of sleep apnoea. In some cases, a multiple sleep latency test is performed on the day after the overnight test to measure how quickly you fall asleep. In this test, patients are given several opportunities to fall asleep during the course of a day when they normally would be awake.

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