Breathing Exercises for Central Sleep Apnea

Most discussions on the subject of sleep apnoea concentrate on obstructive sleep apnoea and its appropriate treatment.  Sleep apnoea’s, however, come in more than one flavour.

The person who suffers from obstructive sleep apnoea  struggles to breathe but is unable to inhale effectively because his or her airway has collapsed.

Breathing Exercises for Central Sleep Apnea

The person whose problem is central sleep apnoea sometimes doesn’t breathe at all, or breathes so weakly that oxygen intake is ineffective. In either type of sleep apnoea, the lack of oxygen often causes the patient to wake, at least momentarily.

There is also a mixed or complex sleep apnoea, which combines the two other types.

Breathing Exercises for Central Sleep Apnea

To put it another way, the obstructive sleep apnoea patient has a mechanical problem, one that almost always can be corrected by the use of a continuous positive airway pressure device. Treatment for the central sleep apnoea patient is more alarming because the signal to the body to inhale, is not being sent from the breathing control centre in the brain.

Who Gets Central Sleep Apnoea?

Sleep apnoea is seen more frequently among men than among women, particularly African-American and Hispanic men.  A major symptom of this is extremely loud snoring, sometimes so noisy that patients’ partners find it unbearable.

Other indicators that sleep apnoea may be present are obesity, persistent daytime tiredness, bouts of being out of breath during the night, and frequently waking in the morning with a dry mouth accompanied by headaches.

Central sleep apnoea is more common among older adults, especially adults older than age 65.  This is generally because they may have other medical conditions or sleep patterns that are more likely to cause central sleep apnoea.

Men are more at risk for both central sleep apnoea and obstructive sleep apnoea.  Being overweight is an associated risk factor for obstructive sleep apnoea but is generally not considered a risk factor for central sleep apnoea.

Central sleep apnoea is often associated with other conditions.  One form of central sleep apnoea, however, has no known cause and is not associated with any other disease. In addition, central sleep apnoea can occur with obstructive sleep apnoea, or it can occur alone.  Referred to as complex sleep apnoea, mentioned earlier.

Conditions that may be associated with central sleep apnoea include the following:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Hypothyroid Disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Damage to the brainstem caused by encephalitis, stroke, injury, or other factors

Breathing exercise for central sleep apnoea

There is a breathing exercise that helps central sleep apnoea.

A fascinating study was done by a group in Colorado and they have discovered a breathing exercise regimen which appears to help sleep apnoea and lower blood pressure.

Developed in the 1980s as a way for critically ill people to come off ventilators, the method involves breathing in through a hand-held device, an inspiratory muscle trainer, which provides resistance.

During early use, it was noticed in patients with lung diseases, that when they performed a half hour, low-resistance exercise each day, it boosted their lung capacity.  By 2016, various University of Arizona researchers published results from a trial to see if just 30 inhalations each day would work.  The result?  It really helped!

Using a much greater resistance than before, the method went on to assist sufferers of central sleep apnoea, improving and strengthening their weak inspiratory muscles allowing them to sleep better.

In addition to more restful sleep and developing a stronger diaphragm and other related muscles, subjects showed an unexpected side effect after the six-week course of exercise.  Their systolic blood pressure also dropped.

How Is Central Sleep Apnoea Diagnosed?

If you have any of these symptoms of central sleep apnoea, or if a family member or bed partner notices that you stop breathing while sleeping, you should talk to your doctor or health care professional.

If your doctor suspects you have central sleep apnoea, he is likely to perform a physical exam, take a medical history, and recommend a sleep history.

The next step will likely be an overnight sleep study called a polysomnogram. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist who can help you decide on your need for further testing. Such an evaluation often involves overnight monitoring of your breathing and other body functions during a sleep study called polysomnography.

During polysomnography, you’re connected to equipment that monitors your heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep. You may have a full-night or split-night sleep study.

This test is performed in a sleep lab under the direct supervision of a trained technologist. During the test, the following body functions may be monitored:

  • Electrical activity of the brain
  • Eye movements
  • Muscle activity
  • Heart rate
  • Breathing patterns
  • Air flow
  • Blood oxygen levels

After the study is completed, the technologist will record the number of times that breathing is impaired during sleep and then grade the severity of your sleep apnoea.

Central sleep apnoea treatment

When central sleep apnoea is associated with other conditions, such as congestive heart failure, that condition is treated, if possible.

Some of the more conservative treatments for obstructive sleep apnoea would likely benefit people with central sleep apnoea as well.  Some of these conservative treatments include:

  • Losing weight if necessary, and then maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding the use of alcohol and sleeping pills, as these items make the airway more likely to collapse during sleep
  • Sleeping on your side if you have apnoeic events when sleeping on your back, possibly using pillows or other devices to keep you in place
  • Using nasal sprays or breathing strips to keep air flowing if you have sinus problems or nasal congestion. Although some nasal sprays can become addictive if used to often.
  • Avoiding sleep deprivation

Untreated sleep apnoea

If left untreated, sleep apnoea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, memory problems, weight gain, impotence, and headaches. Moreover, untreated sleep apnoea may be responsible for job impairment and even motor vehicle crashes.

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