Central sleep apnea (CSA) is a sleep disorder in which breathing periodically stops and resumes during sleep. CSA is caused by a difficulty with respiratory control in the brain stem area of the brain. People with CSA have shallower and slower breathing than normal because the brain does not deliver correct signals to the muscles that control breathing (diaphragm).

Other illnesses, such as heart failure or stroke, might produce CSA. Sleeping at a high altitude (above 6,000 feet) may potentially result in CSA. Opioids, as well as various other medicines, can produce CSA. It is not the same as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a condition in which regular breathing is interrupted due to upper airway obstruction. OSA is far more frequent than CSA. Obesity does not cause central sleep apnea, as it does obstructive sleep apnea. While OSA and CSA are distinct disorders, they can coexist during a single episode of sleep apnea, a condition known as Mixed Sleep Apnea (MSA). MSA episodes frequently begin as obstructive apneas that are addressed.

Furthermore, treating OSA with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) might result in treatment-emergent central sleep apnea (TECSA), a kind of CSA that develops after effective OSA therapy. TECSA is frequently transient.

Treatments for CSA may include treating other existing problems, utilizing a breathing device (CPAP machine), or using supplemental oxygen. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved an implanted device that stimulates a nerve in the chest that sends impulses to the diaphragm to assist breathing.