Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects breathing patterns while asleep, causing an individual to start and stop breathing many times throughout the night. The three types of sleep apnea include obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome. You may have sleep apnea if you snore or if you wake up tired, even after a full night’s sleep. Other symptoms include dry mouth after sleeping, reported breathing loss during sleep by another person, frequent headaches, and irritability. After a physician consult and diagnostic testing, sleep apnea can be diagnosed. Depending on the type of sleep apnea, treatment options may be considered.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea 

The most common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea or OSA, occurs when the throat muscles relax, which causes the throat to narrow or close, reducing the amount of oxygen circulating in your blood. The brain notices the decrease in oxygen supply and stirs your body awake, causing you to breathe. Periods of being startled awake can happen multiple times throughout the night, resulting in an inadequate sleep pattern.

OSA risk factors include obesity, smoking, family history, or the use of sedatives and alcohol. Sleep is imperative for the body to function optimally, so a continuously disrupted sleep pattern caused by sleep apnea can lead to severe fatigue, high blood pressure, other heart conditions, and an increased risk for type II diabetes. Sleep apnea also places you at higher risk for respiratory distress during surgeries.

Central Sleep Apnea

This form of sleep apnea is when the brain fails to transmit the signal to breathe to the lungs and assisting muscles. Central sleep apnea is rare, and a primary symptom of this type of sleep apnea is shortness of breath upon waking. Risk factors include being male, middle-aged, or history of a stroke or heart disease like congestive heart failure.


To be diagnosed with OSA or central sleep apnea, the physician will refer you to a sleep specialist for further evaluation. Sleep specialists will generally recommend a nocturnal polysomnography study, which evaluates your breathing patterns while sleeping overnight at a sleep center. Some devices allow you to complete the test at home, but most testing will be completed in a facility. An ear, nose, and throat doctor may also be consulted to rule out any nasal blockage that could be causing the apnea.

Sleep Apnea


If a mild case of sleep apnea is diagnosed, lifestyle changes may be the suggested treatment option. These changes may include weight loss, sleeping on your side instead of back, smoking cessation, and avoiding alcohol or sleeping medications. However, if a case is moderate to severe, other treatment modalities will be recommended, such as a continuous positive airway pressure machine or CPAP, auto-CPAP, or bilevel positive airway pressure device or BPAP. Oral appliances, which help maintain a patent airway, can be utilized in lieu of a breathing machine. Your dentist will have options to help you choose which oral appliance is best for you.

CPAP machines deliver air pressure through a mask, which keeps the airway open and prevents apneic episodes. There are a variety of mask options available to accommodate the CPAP machine and make you comfortable while sleeping. CPAP machines are a significant change, so give yourself time to adapt to the device before discontinuing it. Do not quit using a CPAP without first consulting with your physician. Auto-CPAP devices adjust the amount of pressure while you sleep, and BPAP machines deliver more oxygen while you inhale than exhale. Speak with your physician to determine the best option for you.

Complex Sleep Apnea occurs while being treated for sleep apnea with a CPAP or other assistive breathing device. The treatment corrects OSA but instead results in the occurrence of central sleep apnea. Regrettably, with complex sleep apnea, one type of sleep apnea is treated, but another form of sleep apnea develops. This emergence is rare, but it is one of the unfortunate side effects of CPAP usage.


Surgery is the last resort and should only be considered when all other treatment options have failed. Types of procedures to treat sleep apnea include tissue removal, tissue shrinkage, and jaw repositioning, to name a few.