What Happens When You Stop Breathing In Your Sleep?

What Happens When You Stop Breathing In Your Sleep?

Key Takeaways Box

  • Sleep apnea occurs when a person's breathing repeatedly starts and stops while sleeping at night.
  • Stopping breathing while asleep is a concern that needs to be addressed. 
  • Be aware of the signs of stopping breathing while sleeping so that you can help yourself get the better sleep you need. 

Sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea can cause you to stop breathing while you sleep. When this type of episode occurs the muscles in the back of the throat relax, allowing the airway to close. Once the airway is closed, breathing ceases. Carbon dioxide builds up and oxygen levels in the blood drop. Your brain recognizes the danger and wakes you up from sleep to start breathing again.  

Conditions That Cause You to Stop Breathing While Sleeping

Obstructive Sleep Apnea 

Obstructive sleep apnea or OSA causes throat muscle relaxation which leads to airway closure and breathing to stop. This is the most common form of sleep apnea, and breathing repeatedly starts and stops while breathing at night with this condition. The obstruction in the airway results in reduced airflow in both the nose and mouth. 

Central Sleep Apnea 

Central sleep apnea originates in the brain. Signals in the brain intermittently shut down breathing for a short period of time during sleep due to the brain's lack of signal telling respiratory therpay muscles to work. This can be from brainstem problems, severe obesity, and certain medications. 


Cheyne-Stokes is characterized by irregular breathing patterns during sleep that can lead to periods where breathing stops entirely.  Breathing alternates between heavy and shallow, and the pauses in breathing could be from severe heart failure and neurological disorders. 

How Serious Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea? 

If ignored, obstructive sleep apnea over the long term can lead to more serious health issues. Obstructive sleep apnea causes sleep deprivation which gradually depletes the blood oxygen level when it is not treated. The result can lead to immune system issues, heart health, diabetes, and worsening of mental health issues as well.  

How Serious Is Central Sleep Apnea? 

Repeated central sleep apnea episodes lead to chronic low blood oxygen levels. Low blood oxygen can lead to irregular heartbeat and impact other pre-existing heart conditions such as heart disease. 

How Serious Is Cheyne-Stokes? 

Much like other sleep conditions, reduced blood oxygen levels over time can compromise heart health. Those with pre-existing heart conditions and Cheyne-stokes may worsen their heart condition. Those without heart issues, may be gradually causing heart damage if Cheyne-Stokes is left untreated.  

Is It Normal to Stop Breathing While Sleeping? 

Interrupted breathing during sleep is not typical and should not be treated lightly. Chronic sleep conditions that cause interrupted breathing are often ignored, which can lead to many more serious health conditions related to sleep deprivation.  

How Do You Resume Breathing While Sleeping?

Preventing interrupted breathing is more important than finding ways to resume breathing while asleep. To prevent these respiratory interruptions, you may require a CPAP machine. CPAP therapy maintains a consistent flow of air into the airway while asleep, which prevents it from closing. CPAP therapy applies to obstructive sleep apnea but may also help with central sleep apnea and Cheyne-Stokes.  

Signs You Stop Breathing While Sleeping 

Noisy Sleeper

If you snore loudly while you sleep, it may be an indicator of some form of sleep disorder. As the airway becomes blocked, breathing becomes more forced and usually leads to snoring.

Restless Sleeper

If your sleep is restless, it may be a sign that you are being awakened from interrupted breathing. Your body reacts to sudden loss of respiration during sleep by waking you up. Frequent instances of restless sleep may be a red flag of a sleep disorder.  

Always Feeling Tired 

Daytime drowsiness is often ignored as spending too much time awake. But frequent drowsiness during the day indicates that you are losing sleep at night. Frequent disruptions of breathing may disrupt healthy sleep, which leaves you exhausted during waking hours.   

How to Prevent Your Breathing from Stopping While Sleeping? 

Speak to your doctor about any signs of sleep deprivation from disrupted breathing. You can take a sleep apnea test to determine if you have sleep apnea. If you do, CPAP therapy with a CPAP machine is the most common treatment. Staying consistent with your CPAP therapy will help you improve healthy sleep and healthy breathing while you sleep.  

The CPAP Shop offers top-quality CPAP equipment for your needs. If you need assistance choosing the products best for you, call our expert staff at 866-414-9700 today!

Chris Vasta

Chris Vasta is the president of The CPAP Shop and an expert in sleep and respiratory therapy. He often provides insights on product design and functionality on various manufacturers’ prototypes and is frequently tapped to provide reviews on new releases.