3 Types Of Sleep Apnea: What Are They?

Updated May, 2021
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Sleep apnea has 3 different classifications; obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is when your brain fails to send the correct signals to the muscles that control your breathing, while obstructive sleep apnea is when your throat muscles relax and block your airway. Complex apnea is a combination of the other two classifications.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is when your breathing frequently stops during sleep. There are 2 distinct types of sleep apnea, with a third being a combination of the two.

Type 1: Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is when your brain fails to send the proper signals to your throat muscles instructing them to breathe. Those at risk of developing this type of apnea are those who have a family history of this type and those who have suffered a brain injury, such as a stroke.

Type 2: Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your throat becomes physically obstructed. Your throat can become blocked by swelling tonsils, your tongue, or by excess fat on the body. Those who are overweight or smoke are more likely to develop this type.

Type 3: Combined Sleep Apnea

Combined sleep apnea occurs when your symptoms stem from both a brain issue and your throat being blocked simultaneously. Genetics and lifestyle habits are a significant factor.

Severity levels of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea can take hold in 3 different severities; mild, moderate, and severe. While none of these severities should be left untreated, mild and moderate cases may not require medical treatments.

  • Mild - Mild sleep apnea usually only causes some snoring and maybe some daytime tiredness. While not a major health risk, catching it before it can progress to more serious levels is always good.
  • Moderate - Moderate sleep apnea is when you begin to wake up gasping for air. In this stage, you begin to risk heart defects as well as other major health issues.
  • Severe - Severe sleep apnea can cause significant brain damage and even death if left untreated. You should seek immediate medical attention if you suspect your sleep apnea has become severe.

How do I get a diagnosis?

Being diagnosed is the first step to getting the proper treatment. There are a few tell-tale signs you may have sleep apnea. If you have any of the below, it's time to visit a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Daytime Fatigue

The constant interruption of your sleep can make you tired during the day. You can become more easily irritable or even depressed.

High Blood Pressure

The lack of oxygen reaching your blood can cause high blood pressure. This lack of oxygen can also put a massive amount of strain on your heart.


Snoring occurs when your airway is partially blocked. You may not be able to hear yourself snoring, but your partner or roommates can.

How do you treat sleep apnea?

Both types of sleep apnea are treatable. While mild and moderate sleep apnea may only require a few lifestyle changes to see improvement, severe sleep apnea requires medical intervention.

Medical Treatment Methods

Treating sleep apnea with medicinal treatments is usually reserved for severe sleep apnea or cases that haven't improved with lifestyle changes.

  • CPAP Machines - CPAP or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure uses a constant airflow into your nose to keep your airway open while you sleep.
  • Surgery- If your throat is anatomically too narrow, surgery can make it wider. Swollen tonsils or an overbite are common issues that require surgery.
  • Oral device - These mouthpieces aren't as effective as the CPAP machines but are an excellent option for those who can't use a CPAP.

Lifestyle Changes

If you have moderate or mild sleep apnea, a change in how you live can help solve this issue.

  • Stop Smoking- Smoking causes swelling in the upper airway and can lead to more health issues.
  • Weight Loss- Losing weight can relieve your neck pressure that causes your airway to be restricted.
  • No alcohol before bed - Alcohol makes your muscles less taut and can close your airway.

Why treat it? It's only snoring.....right?

Snoring is a sign that your airway is at least partially blocked. A blocked airway can lead to many health issues if left untreated. The longer you leave this untreated, the worse it gets.

  • Cardiovascular Disease- The lack of oxygen when your breathing is cut off, over time, can put extra stress on your heart.
  • Surgery Complications - Sleep apnea can make your future surgeries difficult. When your oxygen levels drop, you can die or have to have your surgery postponed until you're healthy enough to do so.
  • Eye Issues - Studies have found that a lack of oxygen caused by sleep apnea can lead to glaucoma and cataracts.

Can you cure your sleep apnea with a new mattress?

The short answer is no; a new mattress can't cure your sleep apnea. The good news? It can help—a lot.

One of the most overlooked changes you can make toward improving your sleep apnea continues to be a new, hypoallergenic mattress (with an adjustable base to elevate your body, like a Saatva). A new mattress not only can help you breathe better, but it serves to create a more relaxed, conducive sleep environment.

Devices, surgery, better eating, and a healthier lifestyle all contribute toward improving your sleep apnea. But if you have the money and your mattress's lifespan is teetering on 7+ years, we recommend replacing it.

The #1 Best Mattress For Sleep Apnea

Saatva is our top pick for the #1 best mattress for Sleep Apnea in 2021! They're a luxury hypoallergenic mattress shipped directly to your door (with full-service white-glove delivery). They have over 50,000 reviews and continue to be one of the most reputable, established brands in the industry (founded in 2009). Check their price, here

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