Obstructive vs Central Sleep Apnea: What Are the Main Differences?

central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea

People who suffer from sleep apnea are likely to suffer from breathing issues while sleeping. It is a common problem that affects many people worldwide. There are two types of sleep apnea i.e. obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Here are the differences between these restrictive vs obstructive lung diseases that you must be aware of.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This is one of the most common forms of sleep disorder. It leads to a partial or complete blockage of upper airways while one is sleeping, leading to an obstruction in the body. This makes the chest and diaphragm work harder to draw air into the lungs.

Usually, people who are overweight suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Their neck muscles relax and constrict the air passage. Sometimes, however, a narrow air passage may also lead to obstructive sleep apnea.

Other Causes

Heart diseases and swollen tonsils are a couple of other causes that may lead to obstructive sleep apnea.

People with a family history of sleep apnea are at a higher risk of obstructive sleep apnea. This is a problem that affects men more than it impacts women.

Similarly, people who are prone to smoking and drinking a lot are also at a higher risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea.


There are a number of symptoms that can hint towards obstructive sleep apnea. These include, but are not restricted to, the following:

  • Fatigue or sleepiness even during the day
  • Dry mouths
  • Morning headaches
  • Night sweats
  • Snoring
  • Restlessness and uneasiness during sleep
  • Low sex drive
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent peeing during the night
  • Irritability

You can’t really let these symptoms go untreated because people with obstructive sleep apnea are said to suffer from accidents. They are also at a higher risk of developing mental health issues, such as depression.

How to Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea not only obstructs your breathing issues at night but also puts you at risk of heart problems and metabolic syndrome. Hence, it is necessary to treat it as soon as possible.

Obstructive sleep apnea can be prevented or treated by taking some general precautions and measures, such as:

  • Losing weight if you are on the heavier side and maintaining it at optimum levels.
  • Not drinking at least four to six hours prior to sleeping.
  • Sleeping on the side instead of sleeping on the stomach or back.

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial to treating or preventing obstructive sleep apnea. We aren’t saying this, there is evidence that says respiratory disturbance index gets reduced up to 26% if you lose just 10% of your body weight.

Not only this, losing weight comes with a host of other benefits and goes a long way in keeping you healthy and preventing any lifestyle illnesses.


Sleep apnea is generally treated using a CPAP machine that uses air pressure to keep the airways open thereby ensuring normal sleep.


This is a device that works similarly to the CPAP machine. It increases air pressure when one suffering from obstructive sleep apnea sleeps at night. The only difference between the CPAP machine and the BPAP machine is that the latter has two pressure settings and, therefore, is more comfortable than the CPAP.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is caused when the brain fails to send signals to muscles to breathe. This is usually caused by an underlying condition or illness. Central sleep apnea is caused by impaired brain function and is mostly seen in people who have an illness involving the lower brain stem.

Other Causes

There are a number of causes that can lead to central sleep apnea. These include:

  • Drug-induced Apnea: If you are on heavy opioids, you may develop breathing issues that can lead to sleep apnea.
  • Cheyne-Stokes Breathing: This is associated with heart ailments such as stroke or heart failure.
  • Treatment-induced Sleep Apnea: Those who receive heavy and prolonged treatment for obstructive sleep apnea may sometimes develop central sleep apnea. As a result, the person may develop a combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea.


In addition to disturbed sleep, there are a number of factors that should be a cause of concern and therefore, must be discussed with a doctor. These include:

  • Shortness of breath while sleeping
  • Getting awake abruptly while sleeping
  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia
  • Problems in focusing and concentration
  • Severe mood swings
  • Morning headaches
  • Snoring

Sometimes, there could be a host of these symptoms, while sometimes, there could be just a few. In any case, you must take these seriously.

How to Treat Central Sleep Apnea?

The treatment options are best discussed with a doctor and they also vary depending on the severity of the situation. Here are some commonly practiced treatments:


Adaptive servo ventilation is a non-invasive treatment that involves the use of a machine to monitor your breathing through the night. The machine intervenes as and when it detects an abnormality. It is a comfortable machine that is great at monitoring and fixing issues occurring due to central sleep apnea.

This method is also used in patients with obstructive sleep apnea, depending on the severity of the situation.

Phrenic Nerve Stimulation

This is an implantable therapy and works for those who have difficulties wearing a mask. This device activates every night and makes sure that the phrenic nerve sends signals to the diaphragm. This is how this machine ensures normal breathing for you during the night.

The Final Word

Sleep apnea is a serious problem and must be treated as such. It can lead to a number of complications, such as daytime fatigue and diabetes and heart issues if left untreated.

In grave cases, it can lead to a complex sleep apnea syndrome wherein patients exhibit symptoms of both restrictive vs obstructive lung diseases.

The best way to avoid sleep apnea is to lead a healthy lifestyle. Of course, in case of an underlying medical condition, you would be better off getting treatment as early as possible and following that religiously.


Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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