Cheyne-Stokes & Sleep Apnea: What’s the Connection?

- By Lofta
Cheyne-Stokes & Sleep Apnea: What’s the Connection?
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By Lofta
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Cheyne-Stokes breathing, also called Cheyne -Stokes respirations, is another sleep disorder that causes significant changes in your breathing pattern while you sleep. 

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The way you breathe while you sleep has a great impact on how well rested you feel when you wake up. Even though it’s normal for your breathing to slow while you sleep, breathing too slowly or quickly is dangerous and indicates a sleep disorder that needs treatment. 

Many people know about sleep apnea, but that isn’t the only sleep disorder that disrupts healthy breathing patterns. Cheyne-Stokes breathing, also called Cheyne -Stokes respirations, is another sleep disorder that causes significant changes in your breathing pattern while you sleep. 

What is Cheyne-Stokes?

Cheyne-Stokes, pronounced like “shain stokes,” was first observed about 200 years ago by John Cheyne and William Stokes. It’s a sleep disorder that causes an unusual pattern of breathing. Many people who have Cheyne-Stokes also have central sleep apnea (CSA). 


There is a distinct pattern of breathing that people experience while they’re sleeping if they have Cheyne-Stokes. It alternates between several deep breaths and more shallow, hyperventilated breaths. Instead of hyperventilation, some people stop breathing for a period of time before returning to deep breathing. This pattern usually includes three central apneas or hypopneas in a row followed by a long deep breath. 

Unlike CSA and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), Cheyne-Stokes breathing doesn’t usually appear on its own. Many people who have this sleep disorder also have heart failure or suffered a stroke. Up to a fifth of people who have a stroke and half of those with heart failure develop Cheyne-Stokes. 

People with other conditions or who are nearing the end of their life may also develop Cheyne-Stokes breathing. 

Sleep Apnea vs. Cheyne-Stokes Respirations

Sleep apnea and Cheyne-Stokes are similar in that they are both disorders that alter the way a person breathes when they’re asleep. Cheyne-Stokes respirations and CSA can even develop in the same person. However, they have distinct differences.  

There are two different kinds of sleep apnea: OSA is when the airway physically collapses and disrupts breathing, and CSA is when the brain fails to send signals to make you breathe. People who have Cheyne-Stokes breathing might also have CSA, but the primary symptom is the alternating pattern of breathing.

The length of breathing cycles also differs between these two sleep disorders. CSA breathing cycles are less than 40 seconds, while Cheyne-Stokes respirations are longer. They average between 45 and 90 seconds in length. 


Since Cheyne-Stokes is often the result of advanced heart failure, improving the condition of the heart is usually the first line of treatment. Your doctor may prescribe beta blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, diuretics, or other medications to treat your symptoms. More invasive treatment options include surgery to repair the heart or implant devices to assist the heart. In some cases, a heart transplant is necessary. 

If heart disease treatments don’t improve Cheyne-Stokes breathing, there are also treatment options for it that are very similar to sleep apnea. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is one of the most common treatments for CSA, and it also helps maintain an open airway for people with Cheyne-Stokes. Additional interventions include nighttime oxygen therapy, noninvasive positive pressure ventilation, and adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV). 

ASV is similar to CPAP, but they aren’t the same. A CPAP machine delivers a continuous flow of positive airway pressure that remains consistent all night long. ASV also provides positive airway pressure, but it doesn’t keep a consistent flow all night like a CPAP machine. Instead, it’s able to monitor your breathing patterns and adjust the level of positive airway pressure accordingly. 

Lofta Has a Solution

Sleep disorders like CSA, OSA, and Cheyne-Stokes make it difficult to get a good night’s rest. The medical professionals at Lofta are ready, willing, and able to help you figure out if your restless sleep is the result of a sleep disorder. 

After a virtual consultation, we’ll send you a home sleep test to measure your heart rate, breathing, and other vitals. Simply wear it for a night and we’ll analyze the data to give you an accurate diagnosis. If you’re a candidate for CPAP or BiPAP, you can easily order one right on our website

Everyone deserves a good night’s rest. Let us help you figure out why you’re experiencing poor quality sleep and treat the underlying cause.