Purpose of review: This article introduces readers to the clinical presentation, diagnosis, and treatment of sleep-disordered breathing and reviews the associated risk factors and health consequences.
Recent findings: Sleep-disordered breathing is associated with significant impairments in daytime alertness and cognitive function as well as adverse health outcomes. The initial treatment of choice is positive airway pressure. Improvements in technology and mask delivery systems have helped to make this treatment more comfortable and convenient for many patients.
Summary: Sleep-disordered breathing, particularly in the form of obstructive sleep apnea, is highly prevalent in the general population and has important implications for neurology patients. Sleep-disordered breathing is characterized by repetitive periods of cessation in breathing, termed apneas, or reductions in the amplitude of a breath, known as hypopneas, that occur during sleep. These events are frequently associated with fragmentation of sleep, declines in oxygen saturation, and sympathetic nervous system activation with heart rate and blood pressure elevation. Obstructive sleep apnea, which represents cessation of airflow, develops because of factors such as anatomic obstruction of the upper airway related to obesity, excess tissue bulk in the pharynx, and changes in muscle tone and nerve activity during sleep. Central sleep apnea represents cessation of airflow along with absence or significant reduction in respiratory effort during sleep and is more commonly found in the setting of congestive heart failure, neurologic disorders, or cardiopulmonary disease.