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Sleep-related breathing disorders
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Sleep-related hypoventilation

Sleep-related hypoventilation is a type of sleep-related breathing disorder. Hypoventilation disorders involve abnormally slow breathing during sleep, also known as respiratory depression. For most people, the brain, muscles, and nerves work together to regulate breathing during sleep. In people with sleep-related hypoventilation disorders, this system doesn’t work properly. When breathing is too slow during sleep, blood oxygen is decreased and carbon dioxide can build up in the body.

· Frequent nighttime awakenings
· Shortness of breath at night
· Daytime fatigue
· Mood changes
· Lack of focus and concentration
· Reduced exercise capacity

Sleep-related hypoventilation disorders are a type of sleep-related breathing disorder. Within this category, there are a number of distinct disorders, all characterized by abnormally slow breathing during sleep.

When hypoventilation is caused by obesity, it is known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome. This disorder is also known as Pickwickian syndrome.

In congenital hypoventilation syndrome, abnormally slow, shallow breathing is present at birth. Infants with congenital hypoventilation syndrome sometimes appear bluish during or after sleep, a condition known as cyanosis. Individuals with congenital hypoventilation syndrome may need mechanical ventilation or a diaphragm pacemaker to help stimulate normal breathing patterns, either at night or all the time.

Late-onset central hypoventilation with hypothalamic dysfunction is similar to congenital hypoventilation syndrome but diagnosed later in childhood. In this disorder, symptoms of congenital hypoventilation syndrome are accompanied by hypothyroidism, which include feeling cold, sluggish metabolism, and fatigue.

Sleep-related hypoventilation disorders occur when the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary processes like breathing, doesn’t function properly. Hypoventilation disorders can be caused by lower airway obstructions, lung or heart conditions, and muscle and nerve abnormalities.


Sleep-related hypoventilation disorders may be diagnosed using a blood gas analysis, which measures levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood. An overnight sleep study may also be performed to measure brain, heart and lung activity during sleep.


Treatment for sleep-related hypoventilation disorders often involves treating underlying factors like obesity, thyroid problems, or airway obstructions. Medicines known as respiratory stimulants may help correct overly narrow airways that can contribute to hypoventilation.

In some cases, hypoventilation may be treated with positive airway pressure devices like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy or bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) therapy.

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