The Relationship Between Sleep Hypopnea and Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea vs. Sleep Hypopnea: What You Need to Know

There are many different types of sleep disorders, and apnea and hypopneas are far more common than people realize. Both are breathing conditions that occur during sleep, and it is possible to have both sleep hypopnea and obstructive sleep apnea disorders. Sleep hypopnea is closely related to obstructive sleep apnea but appears on the lower end of the sleep apnea scale

In short, hypopnea is reduced respiration and periods of shallow breathing, compared to sleep apnea, where breathing stops altogether. 

Sleep hypopnea most often occurs due to the brain failing to send the proper signals to breathe to the muscles, which reduces the flow of air and lowers blood oxygen levels. However, different types of the disorder can also include blockages of the airways. Obstructive apnea happens due to partial or total blockage of the upper airway during sleep, completely blocking airflow to the lungs until the sleeper suddenly wakes, gasping for air. Apneas and hypopneas and the sleep disruptions associated with the conditions can adversely affect short- and long-term health.

Types of Sleep Hypopnea

  • Central hypopnea: Both airflow and breathing effort are reduced, and patients exhibit none of the signs of breathing obstruction that are commonly seen during sleep apnea, such as snoring or a blocked airway. 
  • Obstructive hypopnea: The flow of air is reduced, but not the breathing effort.
  • Mixed hypopnea: A combination of central and obstructive hypopnea episodes.

Common Signs & Symptoms of Sleep Hypopnea

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Loud snoring
  • Waking frequently
  • Insomnia
  • Morning headaches
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Waking up feeling tired
  • Impaired concentration and awareness
  • Daytime drowsiness and fatigue

Causes of Sleep Hypopnea

Like sleep apnea, hypopnea is more common in men than in women and occurs more frequently in middle-aged and older adults than in younger people. The causes of sleep hypopnea closely mirror those of sleep apnea. Depending on the degree of severity, lifestyle changes can help reduce the incidence of sleep disorders. The most common causes of sleep hypopnea include:

  • Obesity
  • Narrow airway
  • Nasal obstructions
  • Large neck or tongue
  • Drinking alcohol before sleep or taking sedatives or other drugs to help sleep
  • Excess tissue at the back of the throat that (tongue, uvula, soft palate, enlarged tonsils, and adenoids)

Treating Sleep Hypopnea

Like sleep apnea, sleep hypopnea is diagnosed by undergoing a polysomnography test, better known as a sleep study. A sleep study can occur at home or overnight at a sleep clinic, which is the first step in determining what is causing sleep disruptions and the degree of severity. From there, the sleep specialist can recommend lifestyle changes or treatment therapy that may include CPAP or other devices or a combination of both.

Consult a Sleep Specialist