How Many Apneas per Hour Is Severe?

How Many Apneas Per Hour is Severe Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition where people experience repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. The severity of this condition is typically assessed by measuring the number of apneas, or complete cessations of airflow, that occur per hour.

These apneas can be classified into three categories: mild, moderate, and severe, based on the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI).

The AHI score represents the average number of apneas and partial obstructions, known as hypopneas, experienced per hour of sleep. Hypopnea is a condition characterized by shallow or slow breathing during sleep, resulting in decreased airflow and potentially lower levels of oxygen in the blood.

While mild and moderate sleep apnea may cause significant disruption to one’s quality of sleep, severe sleep apnea is considered particularly concerning due to its potential adverse health effects.

Understanding the Apnea Index

A man is sleeping in his bed at night.

The apnea hypopnea index measures the number of apneas per hour, which is a key factor in determining the severity of sleep apnea. When you undergo a sleep study, your apnea score is calculated by dividing the total number of apneas you experience during the study by the number of hours you were asleep. The AHI gives your doctor an idea of how frequently your breathing is being disrupted while you sleep.

A normal apnea index is considered to be less than 5 apneas per hour. If your apnea index falls within this range, it indicates that you have a mild form of sleep apnea. You may experience some breathing interruptions during the night, but they are not occurring frequently enough to cause significant health problems.

AHI RangeSeverity
In this table, the AHI range represents the number of apneas and hypopneas per hour of sleep. The severity categorizes the level of sleep apnea based on the AHI score.

However, if your apnea index is between 5 and 15 apneas per hour, your sleep apnea is considered moderate. This means that your breathing is being interrupted more frequently, and you may experience significant daytime sleepiness and other symptoms.

If your apnea index exceeds 15 apneas per hour, your obstructive sleep apnea is classified as severe. This indicates that your breathing is being severely disrupted, and you are at a higher risk for developing serious health complications such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Understanding your apnea score is important in determining the severity of your sleep apnea and guiding your treatment plan. By working closely with your doctor, you can find the right solutions to manage your condition and improve your quality of life.

An AHI of 5 to 15 is considered mild, 15 to 30 is moderate, and above 30 is severe. However, it’s essential to note that the severity of sleep apnea is not solely determined by the AHI. Other factors, such as the presence of symptoms and associated health risks, also play a significant role.

While the AHI score provides valuable information, it is crucial to interpret it in conjunction with medical advice. Even if your AHI falls within the severe range, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional who can evaluate your symptoms, risks, and overall health. They can provide a comprehensive assessment and guide you towards appropriate treatment options to manage your sleep apnea effectively.

The Impact of Apnea Events on Sleep Quality and Overall Health

Experiencing frequent disruptions in breathing during the night can significantly impact the quality of your sleep. When you have sleep apnea, these disruptions, known as apnea events, can occur multiple times per hour, causing you to wake up briefly and preventing you from reaching deep, restorative sleep stages. The severity of sleep apnea is often measured by the number of apnea events that occur per hour.

In general, a normal sleep pattern consists of zero to five apnea events per hour. However, when the number of apneas increases to more than five but less than 15 per hour, it is considered mild sleep apnea.

Moderate sleep apnea is diagnosed when the number of apnea events ranges from 15 to 30 per hour.

Severe sleep apnea, on the other hand, is defined as having more than 30 apnea events per hour.
Surviving Sleep Apnea

The impact of these apnea events on your sleep quality cannot be overstated. Each time an apnea event occurs, your body is jolted awake, even if you may not remember it.

This constant disruption prevents you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body and mind can truly rest and rejuvenate. As a result, you may wake up feeling tired, groggy, and irritable, despite spending what should be an adequate amount of time in bed.

It is important to recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea and seek medical attention if you suspect you may have this condition. With proper diagnosis and treatment, you can improve the quality of your sleep and overall well-being.

Treatment Options for Severe Sleep Apnea Based on Apnea Frequency

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If your apnea events occur more than 30 times an hour and you have a high AHI score, there are treatment options for sleep apnea available to help you manage this severe condition.

CPAP Therapy

One of the most common treatment options for severe sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure therapy. With CPAP, a mask is worn over your nose or mouth while you sleep, delivering a constant flow of air to keep your airways open. This treatment can greatly reduce the number of apnea events you experience and improve the quality of your sleep.

Oral Appliance Therapy

Another treatment option for severe obstructive sleep apnea is oral appliance therapy. This involves wearing a custom-made device in your mouth that helps to keep your airway open during sleep. The device works by repositioning the jaw or tongue to prevent the collapse of the airway. Oral appliance therapy is often recommended for individuals who find CPAP uncomfortable or have difficulty tolerating it.


In some cases, surgery may be recommended to treat severe sleep apnea. Surgical options include uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), which involves removing excess tissue from the throat, or genioglossus advancement, which repositions the tongue to keep the airway open. Surgery may be necessary if other treatments have not been effective or if there are structural abnormalities causing the apnea events.

It’s essential to consult with a sleep specialist to determine the most appropriate treatment for your specific condition. They will consider factors such as the severity of your apnea, your medical history, and your personal preferences when recommending a treatment plan.

Managing severe sleep apnea can significantly improve your sleep quality and overall health.

Frequently Asked Questions

The difference between apnea index and apnea-hypopnea index is that apnea index measures the number of apneas per hour, while apnea-hypopnea index measures both apneas and hypopneas per hour.

Severe sleep apnea cannot be diagnosed solely based on the number of apneas per hour. Other factors, such as the severity of symptoms and the impact on your daily life, need to be considered by a medical professional.

The severity of your sleep apnea can significantly impact your overall health. It’s important to understand how many apneas per hour you experience to determine the appropriate treatment and prevent potential complications.

There are alternative treatments for severe sleep apnea besides CPAP therapy. These treatments may include oral appliances, positional therapy, weight loss, and surgery. It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable treatment for you.

Severe sleep apnea is determined by the number of apneas per hour. It is considered severe when the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) reaches 30 or more apneas per hour during sleep.

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As a long term Sleep Apnea sufferer, Sean has researched the topic extensively and tried several different therapies and lifestyle changes with varying degrees of success. His efforts now are focused on helping people get diagnosed early and begin treating their Sleep Apnea to avoid long-term health impacts.

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