Hypopnea vs. Sleep Apnea – The Difference

November 15, 2023

Obstructive sleep apnea is quite a common condition, but what about hypopnea? Well, this condition is a closely related sleep disorder that often gets mixed up with OSA. It is different yet troublesome. In this blog post, we will explain the differences between hypopnea and sleep apnea to remove all the misconceptions. Along with that, our goal is to make you understand how you can prevent and manage these conditions for a better night’s sleep.

What is Hypopnea?

Hypopnea is a condition where you experience shallow breathing or an abnormally low respiratory rate. Usually this issue often occurs during sleep; however, it may occasionally happen during the day as well. In hypopnea, unlike sleep apnea (where the airway is completely blocked), it involves only a partial blockage. During a hypopnea episode, you will see a decrease in airflow for at least 10 seconds, a 30% reduction in ventilation, and a drop in oxygen saturation.

Hypopnea vs Apnea

The main difference between these 2 sleep disorders is the level of disruption seen in breathing. In sleep apnea, the airway is fully obstructed for around 10 seconds, whereas vs. hypopnea, it is only partially blocked, leading to a reduction in respiratory rate rather than a complete cessation of breathing.

Hypopnea, compared to sleep apnea, is challenging to diagnose since it is about reduction, not a total absence of breath. Our specialist, Dr. Paichun (Patrick) Huang, a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry (FAGD), usually conducts a sleep test that monitors your health during sleep, including heart rate, respiratory rate, plus blood oxygen levels, to determine the severity of your condition.

Sometimes, OSA couples with episodes of hypopnea within the same sleep cycle, and in such cases, experts might diagnose it as ‘Obstructive Sleep Apnea-Hypopnea’ or OSAH.

Hypopnea in Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

Central sleep apnea, although less common than OSA, operates differently. It is not due to a physical airway blockage but the brain fails to send proper signals to the breathing muscles. Central sleep apnea patients can also experience hypopnea episodes.

Are You at Risk for OSA or Hypopnea?

Several factors can increase your risk:

  1. Obesity: Being overweight can contribute to airway blockages.
  2. Gender: Men are more likely to experience OSA and hypopnea.
  3. Age: These conditions become more common as people reach around 40.
  4. Neck Size: A larger neck circumference is a risk factor.
  5. Smoking: Smoking irritates and inflames airway tissues.
  6. Alcohol and Sedatives: Consuming alcohol or taking sedatives before bedtime can relax airway muscles.
  7. Genetics: If you have others in the family with this issue, you are automatically at increased risk.

Identifying the Symptoms of OSAH

It is a challenge to identify OSAH on your own, but here are some common indicators:

  • Waking up with a headache.
  • Excessive daytime tiredness.
  • Frequent awakenings during the night.
  • Sensation of choking when awakening.
  • Loud snoring.
  • Getting a full night’s sleep but still feeling fatigued.


There are various treatments that can effectively manage sleep apnea and hypopnea, but making lifestyle changes is the first step toward success. Losing weight, not using alcohol right before bedtime, and quitting smoking can reduce symptoms and the number of episodes.
If your OSAH condition is severe, try Positive Airway Pressure therapy, which involves wearing a mask delivering oxygen through your nose and mouth during sleep.

Closing Note

If you have more questions about sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea or hypopnea, our team is here to help. Feel free to reach out to us by phone or visit our office to arrange a consultation.

Understanding hypopnea and its differences from sleep apnea is crucial for improving your sleep quality and overall health. If you want more information, contact Briar Forest Dental Group. Dial (713) 784-4430 to connect with us. Or visit our clinic at 1988 Wilcrest Dr G, Houston, TX 77042, United States.

We are proud to serve patients from all nearby communities, including Briar Forest, The Memorial Villages, Memorial City, Westchase, and Walnut Bend.


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