The 3 types of Sleep Apnoea

Sleep apnoea is a sleeping disorder where a person has trouble breathing when asleep. They experience pauses in breathing that can last longer than 10 seconds. When oxygen levels in the blood dip, the brain sends a signal known as an arousal to awaken the sleeper, and he or she will partially awaken with a gasp. The sleeper is not aware of this, and it can happen up to thirty times or more per hour. Sleep apnoea can happen every night unless treated.

This seriously disrupts the sleep cycle, resulting in severe fatigue and drowsiness during the day despite the person thinking they’ve had enough hours of sleep. It is a serious disorder that is commonly a risk factor for other health problems and can lessen the quality of life of those suffering from it. If left untreated it can lead to heart problems and high blood pressure.

There are 3 different types of sleep apnoea: obstructive, central, and complex.

Sleep apnoea is diagnosed through a medical test known as a sleep study

26% of people between 30 and 70 years suffer from sleep apnoea and 2-3% of children. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

This is the most common type of sleep apnoea and is sometimes called OSA. This is when the tongue and throat muscles relax and collapse, creating a narrow passage and obstructing breathing. When air travels through the narrowed passageway, it causes vibrations in the tissues producing sounds we know as snoring.

OSA is one of the most common risk factors for obesity. Statistically, men are at higher risk of OSA. The most common symptom is snoring, although not all people who suffer from sleep apnoea are snorers. 

While regular snoring can be caused by factors such as weight, age, and alcohol, those with sleep apnoea tend to: 

  • snore louder
  • take shallow breaths and have lengthy pauses between breaths (over 10 seconds) 
  • choke, gasp, and puff 
  • awaken and are restless throughout the night

This results in the low flow of oxygen to vital organs and irregular heartbeat, which is dangerous if left untreated.

Forms of treatment

The easiest way to treat OSA for some people is changing sleeping positions. Lying on one’s side instead of lying on the back can fix the obstruction in the throat. Other lifestyle changes such as losing weight if appropriate, becoming more physically active, and reducing alcohol can also reduce symptoms. Medical treatments include:

  • using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine during sleep to keep the airways open using pressurised air
  • surgery to remove excess tissue and reshape the airways
  • wearing dental appliances during sleep to prevent the tongue from collapsing on the throat

Complex Sleep Apnoea

Complex sleep apnoea is a combination of OSA and Central sleep apnoea. The cause is unknown, but it presents itself in the presence of airway collapse combined with interruption of signals telling the lungs to breathe.

Besides being diagnosed in an initial sleep study, complex sleep apnoea is usually diagnosed if the symptoms are not resolved by either a CPAP machine or other traditional OSA treatments. 

Symptoms are very similar to OSA such as:

  • constant waking from sleep
  • confusion when waking
  • headaches and dry mouth when waking
  • daytime fatigue 
  • insomnia

Forms of treatment

A combination of interventions may be used to treat complex sleep apnoea, but a device called ASV (Adaptive Servo-Ventilation) is best. This device learns your breathing patterns and uses pressure to normalise the breathing pattern when it detects a pause in your breathing.

Surgery is a last resort if other forms of treatment don’t work. Types of surgery can include:

  • Removal or shrinkage of excess tissue in the throat
  • Jaw repositioning 
  • Nerve stimulation
  • Implants
  • Tracheostomy (i.e. creation of a new airway)

Central Sleep Apnoea

This is the rarest form of sleep apnoea. It is a neurological condition where the normal signals that the brain sends out to tell your lungs to breathe, fail. For this reason, the cause is a fault in the signaling of the central nervous system and not obstruction in the airways so there is no snoring.

It occurs mostly in people who have a neuromuscular disease such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or those who’ve had a stroke or suffer from heart, kidney, or lung disease. 

It can also occur in a pattern known as Cheyne-Stokes breathing, which causes a person to alternate between hyperventilating and not breathing at all. This type of breathing occurs typically with congestive heart failure.

Other causes include sedating drugs such as opiates and sleeping at high altitudes. 

Forms of treatment

Supplemental oxygen is a common treatment for central sleep apnoea. This supplies you with extra oxygen using a device that can help deliver it straight to your lungs.

Also, since central sleep apnoea is caused by heart or neurotransmitter disorders, treating these underlying conditions may resolve the problem.


Sleep apnoea is a serious disorder that has lasting and debilitating effects on the sufferer. The good news is that it is highly treatable. Treatment options include lifestyle changes such as losing weight and cutting back on alcohol, using dental appliances or CPAP machines while sleeping to help keep the airways open, and surgery. Surgery should only be a last resort if all other options fail

At Sleepwise Clinic, we supply the best available, medically proven, custom-made appliances to help treat your sleep apnoea. Make an appointment with us today and experience the life-changing result of a restful night’s sleep without breaking the bank.



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