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Sleep-Related Hypoventilation

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

What is Sleep-Related Hypoventilation?

In this disorder, a person has decreased breathing during sleep, which leads to an increase in blood carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. These issues are not the result of another sleep disorder.

There are 3 subtypes of this disorder:

  • Idiopathic Hypoventilation - there is no identified condition that is causing the problems.
  • Congenital Central Alveolar Hypoventilation - this is a rare disorder present at birth where a baby has shallow breathing, or the skin is blueish in color and they have pauses in their breathing during sleep.
  • Comorbid Sleep-Related Hypoventilation - there is another medical condition or a medication that is causing this condition. This may be a lung and respiratory disorder (including COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), spinal injury, brain/muscle disorder, or a medication such as an opioid (morphine, heroin, codeine, methadone, oxycodone, etc.) or benzodiazepine (anti-anxiety medication).

How common is Sleep-Related Hypoventilation?

While exact rates are not known, this disorder is very uncommon.

What are the risk factors for Sleep-Related Hypoventilation?

Risk factors are related to the subtype of the disorder that the person has. People who are using medications including benzodiazepine (anti-anxiety medications), opiates (morphine, heroin, codeine, methadone, oxycodone, etc.), and alcohol can be at risk for this disorder. Those with a medical condition including lung disorders, spinal injuries, or brain/muscle disorders may also be at higher risk. Babies with a particular gene that is abnormal will develop the congenital subtype.

What other disorders or conditions often occur with Sleep-Related Hypoventilation?

As with the risk factors, the conditions that also occur are typically the ones that are causing the sleep disorder including lung and respiratory disorders, spinal injuries, brain/muscle disorders, and long term use of opioids or benzodiazepines.

How is Sleep-Related Hypoventilation treated?

Treatment depends on the subtype, but typically involves treating conditions that may be causing this disorder. For example, with a lung or respiratory disorder, that could include stopping smoking, supplemental oxygen or medication to reduce symptoms. If a substance is causing it, treatment could include drug treatment or self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.