Sleep Breathing Disorders – What Impact Do They Have On Your Health?

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Sleep-related breathing disorders can significantly affect the quality of rest you receive. Some conditions have only a limited impact on health, while others can have severe consequences when not properly managed. Due to the effects these issues could have on the levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in your blood, it’s crucial to keep a pulse on how your body handles the symptoms to know when you may need to make a change.

Struggling to feel well-rested is a symptom of various sleep-related breathing disorders. Snoring, hypoxemia, hypoventilation, and other conditions could cause tiredness, shortness of breath, increased anxiety, and even changes in skin color.

Breathing Dreaming Connection

Correlations between obstructive sleep apnea and nightmares have been made as far back as the year 1037. More recently, physicians have hypothesized that low oxygen levels may cause nightmares, with some studies confirming this correlation.

Someone with moderate to severe apnea could experience episodes multiple times per hour, resulting in frequent disruptions. These interferences not only prevent proper rest but influence our psyche. When this occurs during the REM stage, which is when we dream, these episodes are known to interrupt our experiences during these moments of subconsciousness and even influence dream subject matter.

Boy Having Nightmares Illustration

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive apnea is a condition in which breathing starts and stops involuntarily for brief periods. Individuals who suffer from snoring or wake up tired may have sleep apnea, which occurs when the muscles relax in the back of your throat, obstructing your airway.

The muscles in this area support your tonsils, uvula, soft palate, and the sidewalls of the tongue and throat, and when these muscles relax, your airway narrows.

When you don’t get enough air, your blood’s oxygen levels decrease. When your brain senses your inability to breathe, it momentarily wakes you, but, typically, individuals don’t remember these brief rousings.

Need more info? Check out our complete guide to sleep apnea.

Normal vs Abnormal Respiratory System Anatomy

Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children and Infants

The pediatric obstructive condition is similar to adults in which the child’s airway is partially or completely blocked during sleep, rousing them and interrupting periods of rest.

The main difference between the adult condition and the pediatric type is that adults typically experience daytime drowsiness, whereas children are more likely to struggle with behavioral issues. Often, the underlying cause in adults is obesity, whereas the common underlying issue in children is the enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids.

Enlarged tonsils often don’t have an underlying condition; however, they may be removed surgically. Identifying these issues when they arise is essential to preventing complications that could affect a child’s development.

Need more info? Check out our full guide for sleep apnea in children.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central apnea causes the same issues as the obstructive type, in which the airway becomes partially or entirely blocked for short periods, repeatedly, during the night. However, it’s brought on by a different cause.

Central apnea happens when the brain stops sending the correct signals to the muscles that control breathing. Central apnea is less common than the obstructive type.

Central apnea can arise due to other conditions like stroke, heart failure, or sleeping at high altitudes. This variety’s treatment might involve healing existing conditions to improve heart health, lower blood pressure, or using a device to assist breathing at night.

Learn More: Central Sleep Apnea Treatment


Snoring could be a symptom of obstructive apnea, or it could just be noisy breathing related to other causes. The issue is typically more common in men or in people who are overweight, so the problem can sometimes be treated with diet and exercise.

However, snoring can be related to various other underlying issues as well, including:

  • Blocked nasal airways, particularly in individuals who suffer from allergies, sinus infections, or deviated septums
  • Impaired throat and tongue muscles
  • Significant throat tissue (which could be linked to obesity or large tonsils)
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Sleep deprivation; the muscles in your throat can relax if you’re overly tired.
illustration of a woman using earplugs for blocking husbands snoring

Sleep-Related Hypoventilation

Sleep-related hypoventilation is when breathing during the night decreases, leading to lower blood oxygen levels and an increase in carbon dioxide. The disorder can appear alongside insomnia or headaches upon waking and can exist with either the obstructive or central varieties.

Treatment for the disorder depends on the type, of which there are a few:

  • Idiopathic Hypoventilation, in which there is still not identifiable cause.
  • Congenital Centra Alveolar Hypoventilation, a rare condition causing shallow breathing that can at times lead to blueish skin and pauses in breath during sleep.
  • Comorbid Sleep-Related Hypoventilation, in which another medical condition causes the issue, for example, a spinal injury or brain disorder.
Partner Can't Sleep Because The Other One Snores

Sleep-Related Hypoxemia

Sleep-related hypoxemia is caused by low levels of oxygen in the blood. When oxygen levels decrease and carbon dioxide levels don’t sufficiently rise to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of sleep-related hypoventilation disorder, the condition is known as sleep-related hypoxemia disorder. Sleep-related hypoxemia is commonly caused by health issues that affect breathing, like respiratory diseases and lung conditions.

Treatment for this issue usually involves looking at pre-existing factors, like lung disease, asthma, or smoking. Obesity has also been thought to be a contributor by many physicians. However, it has yet to be proven.

Sleep-Related Groaning

Catathrenia, also known as sleep-related groaning, is charactererized by repeated abnormal breathing and vocalization. An individual will inhale a long breath and exhale slowly, creating a monotone, groaning noise. When this happens, the individual is unconscious.

While this is known as a disorder, it’s uncommon and not known to present any health risks. However, the habit can be highly annoying or frightening when you’re not expecting a loud sound in the middle of the night.

Treatment could include a CPAP device which would provide a continuous stream of air pressure to the individual, typically mitigating the issue.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you treat sleep breathing disorders?

Illustration of a Woman Putting CPAP Chin Strap On

Breathing-related sleep disorders could significantly affect one’s life, making treatment imperative. Behavior modification for these conditions include:

  • Sleeping with your head elevated or with a wedge pillow
  • Avoiding the supine position during rest
  • Maintaining positive rest hygiene and preventing further rest deprivation
  • Resisting ethanol and sedative drugs
  • Switching to an adjustable bed
  • Dental appliance
  • Weight loss
  • Deviated septum repair
  • Positive airway support device or a CPAP machine
  • Health management

Treatment could require significant lifestyle changes, many of which lead to necessary weight-loss techniques and adherence to devices aimed at supporting proper breathing, which may require a lifetime commitment. Some individuals have explored surgical options in order to create a more stress-free and convenient alternative.

Content Writer

Rachael is a content writer for Sleep Advisor who loves combining her enthusiasm for writing and wellness. She’s had a passion for writing since she was a kid when she wrote awful poetry. She’s honed her craft quite a bit since then and considers herself a lucky duck to get paid to do what she loves.

Embracing the remote work life, she occasionally takes her work on the road and lives out her travel writer pipe dream.

In her free time, she attempts to meditate regularly, rides her bike to Trader Joe’s, and enjoys trying every type of food that she can get her hands on.

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