Central sleep apnea (CSA) is a disorder where a person’s breathing stops during sleep. Basically, central sleep apnea results when a person’s brain stops relaying the appropriate signals to the muscles which control the breathing process. CSA is different from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when the airway “caves in” and interrupts the upper airway.

Symptoms of central sleep apnea

The common signs and symptoms of CSA include:

  • Abnormal breathing patterns while sleeping
  • Shortness of breath with sudden awakenings
  • Shortness of breath which improves while sitting up
  • Insomnia or trouble staying asleep
  • Nighttime chest pain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypersomnia ( daytime sleepiness)
  • Morning headaches
  • Mood changes

Snoring is not a symptom of central sleep apnea, but may be present in people who have a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Causes of CSA

As you might be aware, breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Under normal situations, when the brain detects the need for a breath, it relays signals to the intercostals muscles and diaphragm to relax and contract at regular intervals. In central sleep apnea, this process is interrupted because the brain is unable to relay those signals. Here are a number of other factors that causes CSA.

  • Cheyne-Stokes breathing– This is a distinctive breathing pattern synonymous with progressively faster and deeper breaths followed by a steady decrease which leads to a brief stop of breathing. Most commonly linked to stroke and congestive heart failure (CHF).
  • Complex (mixed) sleep apnea – This is a combination of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
  • High altitude periodic breathing – When exposed to incredibly high altitudes where oxygen is scarce, a person may experience Cheyne-Stokes type of breathing.
  • Drug-induced apnea – Certain kinds of medications, especially opioids (Oxycodone, Codeine, and morphine, etc.) can cause an uneven breathing pattern including a complete or brief cessation of breathing.
  • Idiopathic CSA – Central sleep apnea caused by unidentified factors.
  • Medical condition-induced CSA – Central sleep apnea caused by various medical conditions which are not linked to the Cheyne-Stokes pattern of breathing.


The treatment of CSA is individualized, depending on the cause of the condition. For instance, if your CSA is brought about by a heart problem, the heart problem must be examined and remedied first. When OSA is also present, Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) therapy can be introduced.

There are also different types of CPAP systems which are built to continuously monitor breathing and ease the severity of abnormal breathing. However, for any situation, the right device will be recommended by a sleep specialist.