What Are the Three Types of Sleep Apnea?

What is sleep apnea?

There are three types of sleep apnea each with slightly different causes.
There are three types of sleep apnea each with slightly different causes.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can potentially lead to serious health complications. In sleep apnea, the person may stop breathing for some time during sleep. Snoring is often a common symptom of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can affect anyone, including children. It is more common in older men who are overweight.

What are the three types of sleep apnea?

The three types of sleep apnea are

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea: This is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when the airway is floppy due to poor muscle tone in the throat.
  2. Central sleep apnea: With this type of sleep apnea, there is no blockage of the airway. It occurs because the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the respiratory muscles that control breathing. It occurs in patients who have underlying medical conditions, for example, issues in the brain stem (a part of the brain) or due to overdoses of certain drugs.
  3. Mixed sleep apnea: This is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.

What are the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea?

10 Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include

What are the complications of sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can lead to serious complications such as

  • Cardiovascular problems: The sudden decrease in blood oxygen levels that occurs during OSA causes the release of substances in the body that increase blood pressure and strain the heart. This leads to high blood pressure (hypertension) and increases the risk of heart disease. The more severe the OSA, the higher the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), stroke, and sudden death. 
  • Excessive daytime fatigue and sleepiness: OSA leads to poor-quality sleep that causes daytime fatigue, mood changes, and drowsiness. Patients may have difficulty concentrating. They may find themselves falling asleep while watching television or at work and even while doing important activities such as driving. This increases the risk of work-related and road traffic accidents. Children and young people with OSA may perform poorly in school, have poor attention, have behavioral problems, and fall asleep while studying or in class.
  • Complications with medications and surgery: OSA is also a concern with certain medications like sedatives and narcotics and general anesthesia. These medications relax the upper airway and may worsen OSA.
  • Sleep-deprived partners: Loud snoring can disrupt the sleep of another person sharing the room, leading to marital discord.


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Medscape Medical Reference

Sleep Foundation


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute