Sleep Disorders

Central Sleep Apnea Causes

If you have been diagnosed with central sleep apnea you may be wondering what caused it to develop.

There are many different central sleep apnea causes and it is rare that just one is the isolated cause.

This type of apnea tends to mostly affect men over 40 who are also overweight. There are instances of other types of people, including infants, developing central sleep apnea as well.

Fortunately, of all the types of sleep apnea, this one is the most responsive to treatment and the treatment is easy to perform.

Breathing machines are rarely used to treat this type of apnea as the causes are generally restricted to lifestyle and chronic conditions.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes someone to stop breathing while they are asleep.

There are many different kinds of apnea which include obstructive, central apnea and mixed.

Sleep apnea of all types can progress to become life threatening. Any instances of sleep apnea in children are deemed life threatening.

What is central sleep apnea?

Central sleep apnea is a pattern of the body stopping to breathe while sleeping because the message from the brain does not reach the nerves and muscles responsible for the breathing action.

It is very different from other types of apnea as its central area is focused on the brain stem and the transmission of commands from the brain.

Are there hereditary causes?

There are no known hereditary causes for central sleep apnea; however there is an association with hereditary and learned lifestyle patterns that may contribute to the condition.

Families with histories of associated chronic conditions will be more likely to have traceable apnea throughout different generations.

Central Sleep Apnea Causes

What chronic conditions are thought to cause central sleep apnea?

Knowing which chronic conditions are thought to cause central sleep apnea can be difficult to identify.

Many of the chronic conditions thought to cause it are also conditions that chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to occurring.

Some of the known chronic conditions associated with this type of apnea are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Diabetes
  • ALS
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson’s
  • Stroke

There is growing evidence that these conditions can create the apnea and the apnea can make the conditions worse.

This is why managing your sleep hygiene and eliminating the basic causes of sleep deprivation may have to come before an actual diagnosis.

Can an injury cause central sleep apnea?

Injuries and trauma to the head, neck and shoulders that affect the brain stem can be a cause of central sleep apnea.

The brain stem controls many autonomic functions in the body. The brain stem acts like a communication switchboard through which the signals from the brain are sent out to the body for action.

When the brain stem is injured it can disrupt the flow of signals. Injury doesn’t always have to have a physical source, illness and infection can also cause trauma and injury to the brain stem as well.

This is why taking a full medical history is an important part of diagnosing central sleep apnea.

What about lifestyle?

Lifestyle plays a large role in the development of central sleep apnea. One of the main treatments for the disorder is to change your lifestyle.

Things that will contribute to it are:

  • Being overweight
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Taking sleep aids
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor diet
  • Drinking caffeine late in the day

The single greatest contributor to central sleep apnea is being overweight. Talk to your doctor about what your weight and waist circumference should be and then take steps to achieve and maintain that.

Make sure that you do not look at BMI (Body Mass Index) only, which is only a general guideline; knowing your healthy waist circumference for your age, gender, height and race is essential to achieving your weight goals.

Caffeine may be a surprise contributing factor to sleep apnea. Many products contain caffeine that you wouldn’t suspect.

For example, herbal teas often can have higher caffeine levels than coffee – green tea having one of the highest.

Take the time to investigate your current diet to identify hidden sources of caffeine.

How do you find out if you have central sleep apnea?

If you suspect that you have central sleep apnea, talk to your doctor. They will do a physical exam, conduct several blood tests and take a full medical history to rule out any other conditions that could be causing your sleep deprivation.

If your doctor feels that you may have central sleep apnea they will refer you to a sleep lab for special testing.

For testing in a sleep lab you will spend one night and one day. During the night, your brain activity, breathing and waking patterns will be tracked.

During the day a “sleep latency” test is performed where you will be given opportunities to fall asleep and the clinician will measure how fast this occurs. From the results of all of this a diagnosis may be made.

What is the treatment for central sleep apnea?

The general treatment for central sleep apnea is to try and reduce the amount of contributing factors.

These factors can be reduced in several ways. If weight is an issue then adopting a healthy diet and exercise program can reduce your weight and maintain it at a level that won’t contribute to central sleep apnea.

Developing a healthy sleep hygiene schedule is important as well. Sleep hygiene is how you get ready for sleep and the environment that you sleep in.

Common sleep hygiene suggestions include –

  • Avoiding caffeine late in the day
  • Avoiding alcohol and sleep aids
  • Sleeping in a room that is dark and quiet
  • Wearing loose fitting clothes to sleep in
  • Going to bed at a regular time
  • Avoiding electronic devices for at least 1 hour before bed

Studies have also found that sleeping on your side as opposed to your back can reduce instances of central sleep apnea.

Rarely prescribed, but sometimes effective, are CPAP machines. These are more commonly used to treat other forms of sleep apnea.

3 Comments

  • I had to come back and make a comment because I tried out a tip on your article and it worked like a charm. I suffer from Sleap Apnea which leaves me tired and sleepy all day however I tried your tip about sleeping on the side instead of my back and I have noticed a reduction, in fact I have not had an incident in the past four days

  • Sleep apnea is a very serious condition. My ex-husband suffered from it real bad. He would snore very loud when sleep and would stop breathing for long stretches of time. I would also nudge him to get him breathing again. We did notice that sleeping on his side instead of his back (his normal sleeping position), it would help.

  • About 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with OSA and started using a C-Pap. This helped considerably, but I was still not getting the quality of sleep I wanted. 3 years ago after major surgery, and later going into A-Fib, another sleep study was done, and then another to confirm, and it was determined that I had Central Sleep Apnea, and experiencing 20+ episodes per hour where I stopped breathing. I was placed on Bi-Pap therapy. I now am sleeping better than I have in years, and my wife has noticed a big difference in my sleep pattern. Also, I have always been a side sleeper, which had no effect pro or con on my breathing issues.

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