Understanding the Three Types of Sleep Apnea

If you have sleep apnea, you may be surprised to learn that a highly trained orthodontist, such as Joseph Yousefian, DMD, of Yousefian Orthodontics for Children, Teens, and Adults, can help you. This is because sleep apnea involves the structures of your mouth and how they interact with your airways, subjects orthodontists are very knowledgeable about.

There are three basic types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and complex sleep apnea. Knowing the differences between these three can help you get the correct treatment, so you can sleep restfully again. In this blog, Dr. Yousefian explains the differences and the potential treatments.

The basics of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to briefly stop breathing during the night. This can occur up to 12 times an hour. People with sleep apnea often complain of feeling unrested after a night of sleep, no matter how many hours of sleep they get. 

No matter the type of sleep apnea, your breathing gets interrupted, causing you to briefly wake up to restart your breathing again, though you may not remember doing so. Extended periods of this can cause you to have poor quality sleep, which may make you tired during the day.

Signs of poor quality sleep include the following:

The three types of sleep apnea

The three types of sleep apnea are obstructive, central, and complex sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea

The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. With this type of sleep apnea, tissues in the neck and throat temporarily block the airways and don’t allow you to breathe properly. This typically occurs when lying flat on your back, although it can occur in any position. 

Being overweight or obese is one of the most common risk factors for developing obstructive sleep apnea, as excess fatty tissue can cause blockages. Other risk factors include the following:

Central sleep apnea

With central sleep apnea, your brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles that control your breathing. This can cause you to stop breathing for a few seconds at a time and can occur several times an hour.

Risk factors for central sleep apnea include being age 65 or older, poor sleeping patterns, taking certain medications — such as narcotic painkillers — and problems with the brainstem, such as a brain infection or stroke.

Complex sleep apnea

Complex or mixed sleep apnea is when you have both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. 

This condition is often discovered after a sleep study and after a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is prescribed for use. If symptoms still occur in a patient who is using a CPAP machine, then a doctor will then likely investigate to see if complex sleep apnea is responsible for the continued symptoms.


Several treatments can help with sleep apnea, regardless of which type you have. The most common treatment is the above-mentioned CPAP machine, which blows a constant stream of air through a mask or nose piece to keep your airways open throughout the night.

Other options include the BiPAP (bi-level positive airway pressure) machine, which adjusts to whether you’re inhaling or exhaling, and the AVS (adaptive-servo ventilation) machine. Medications may also be able to provide deeper, more restful sleep.

Furthermore, dental devices may be able to help keep your airways open, and, depending on the cause, surgery may be an option.

If you have sleep apnea or would like to know if you do, Dr. Yousefian can help you find out. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Yousefian Orthodontics for Children, Teens, and Adults today.

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