Hypopnea is related to sleep apnea and is a part of the same family of sleep disorders. In hypopnea, there is a decrease of airflow for at least 10 seconds in respirations, a 30-percent reduction in ventilation, and a decrease in oxygen saturation. This decreases the amount of oxygen that is getting to your red blood cells.

Hypopnea often happens at night while you sleep, but it can also occur during the hours that you’re awake. There are two main types of hypopnea, but they are hard to distinguish clinically from apnea — when breathing stops completely. Apnea is thought of as:

  • Central sleep apnea: This is when your breathing is disrupted, but respiratory effort is maintained.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea: This is when both your breathing and respiratory effort are disrupted.

Sleep apnea and hypopnea are different versions of the same sleep disorder. An apnea is the complete blockage of air, while hypopnea is the partial blockage of air. Many times, they occur together.

Hypopnea was discovered when doctors noticed that sleep apnea patients did not always have a complete blockage of air intake when they were sleeping. Instead of being just a complete periodic blockage, it was either just partial blockage or a mix of both complete (apnea) or partial (hypopnea).

In most cases, you will have both sleep apnea and sleep hypopnea. If you just have hypopnea, there is a good chance you will develop sleep apnea.

The causes of hypopnea are similar to those of sleep apnea.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea/hypopnea is caused by the relaxation of your throat muscles while you’re asleep.
  • Central sleep apnea/hypopnea is caused by your brain failing to send the right signals to the muscles that allow you to breathe.

The risks can be slightly different for each type of hypopnea. The risk factors for obstructive hypopnea include:

  • the size of your neck
  • obesity
  • gender (it’s more common in men)
  • smoking
  • alcohol consumption
  • taking sedatives or sleep medication
  • age (it’s more common in middle-aged and older adults)
  • congested nasal passages
  • genetics (family history can play a role)

The symptoms of sleep hypopnea include the following when they occur without another cause:

  • being unusually tired during the day
  • waking up from a full night’s sleep feeling tired
  • waking up choking
  • waking up often during the night
  • snoring loudly
  • waking up with a headache

The treatment of sleep hypopnea depends somewhat on the cause and severity. However, there are treatment options that are commonly used. Again, the treatments for sleep hypopnea are similar to those of sleep apnea. Some of these treatments include:

Lifestyle changes that your doctor may suggest you try as a part of your treatment include:

  • losing weight
  • consuming a healthy diet
  • giving up smoking
  • avoiding sleep medications or sedative medication
  • drinking less alcohol or stopping completely
  • changing your sleep position

If your hypopnea is mild, then lifestyle changes may be the only treatment necessary.

Obstructive sleep apnea-hypopnea syndrome (OSAHS) is a more serious form of sleep apnea or sleep hypopnea. OSAHS is a chronic condition that requires ongoing management. Treatment is usually lifelong.

It’s not uncommon to have either sleep apnea or sleep hypopnea, but there are certain factors that increase your risk. It’s more common in men than in women, and people between the ages of 40 and 65 have an increased risk of developing it. Other conditions that may increase your risk are:

  • obesity
  • change in the jawbone (structure or length)
  • hypothyroidism
  • enlarged adenoids or tonsils in children
  • smoking
  • some sedative medications
  • a history of stroke
  • heart disease
  • some narcotics

While some of these risk factors cannot be changed, there are many that you can eliminate from your life to lessen your risk of ever having an issue with hypopnea. Losing weight, quitting smoking (or not starting), and limiting alcohol can all help reduce your risk.

Many times, hypopnea can be eliminated through lifestyle changes or minor medical treatments. Those cases that are more severe or chronic, including OSAHS, may take more time or require management and treatment for years. However, talking to your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms will help reduce the severity and the length of treatment.

While some causes of hypopnea can’t be prevented, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk. These include losing weight if you are overweight, not smoking, avoiding alcohol in excess, eating healthy, and exercising. All of these will help in the prevention of not only sleep hypopnea, but also other health-related conditions.