Hypopnea is overly shallow breathing or an abnormally low respiratory rate. Hypopnea is defined by some to be less severe than apnea (the complete cessation of breathing), while other researchers have discovered hypopnea to have a "similar if not indistinguishable impact" on the negative outcomes of sleep breathing disorders. In sleep clinics, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome or obstructive sleep apnea–hypopnea syndrome is normally diagnosed based on the frequent presence of apneas and/or hypopneas rather than differentiating between the two phenomena. Hypopnea is typically defined by a decreased amount of air movement into the lungs and can cause oxygen levels in the blood to drop. It commonly is due to partial obstruction of the upper airway.
Hypopnea during sleep is classed as a sleep disorder. With moderate to severe hypopnea, sleep is disturbed such that patients may get a full night's sleep but still not feel rested because they did not get the right kind of sleep. The disruption in breathing causes a drop in blood oxygen level, which may in turn disrupt the stages of sleep.
Daytime hypopnea events, however, are mostly limited to those with severely compromised respiratory muscles, as occurs in certain neuromuscular diseases or compromised central respiratory drive, as occurs in conditions such as acquired or congenital central hypoventilation syndrome (ACHS or CCHS). Daytime hypopnea can also cause a drop in blood oxygen level.
During severe snoring, blood flow to the middle cerebral artery of the brain drops by as much as 76%.