Oxygen level 70–80% while sleeping: What happens

Through millions of years of evolution, our bodies have perfected the art of survival. Our weak ancestors were never selected by nature to pass on their genes. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the current specimen of human beings has all the traits of a survivor.

Yet, we find ourselves struggling with a few things. Because beyond nature’s role, we’re also required to take certain matters into our own hands.


Having oxygen levels of 70% to 80% while sleeping isn’t healthy. When oxygen levels drop below 90%, hypoxemia starts to happen. Sleep apnea is the most common reason oxygen levels drop significantly. In this article, we’ll also cover the following topics:

  • The best oximeters
  • When is a ventilator needed?

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pulse oximeter

Have you ever woken up gasping for air? You didn’t have a nightmare, and it certainly wasn’t anxiety induced. So what caused this shortness of breath? You probably ignored it as a one-time incident and went back to sleep. But this is where you’ve to begin acting like a survivor.

Our body only asks so much of us. It requires a plentiful supply of nutritious food, a good night’s rest, and clean and sufficient air to breathe.

When the body cannot meet either of those needs, it sends warning signals so you can take appropriate action. The reasons are worth understanding if you’ve been feeling a bit out of breath even when you’re not working out.

If your oxygen level is between 70 and 80 while sleeping, keep reading to learn more about the blood oxygen level – what it is and how much is enough. We also discuss when to call in for professional care and treatment.

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What happens when your oxygen level drops to 70 to 80% while sleeping?

What happens when your oxygen level drops to 70?

Under normal circumstances, your body should maintain a saturation of 95%. But if you’re suffering from an ailment or a heavy smoker, the number may dial down to 90%.

And when you’re sleeping, it goes further down to 88% without causing any damage to bodily functions. Hence, it’s safe to say that you’re in the clear as long as the saturation remains at 88% or higher. But once it goes below that, you may need medical assistance immediately.

If your oxygen level remains below 70 for a prolonged period, you risk hypoxemia. Since anything below 75% is deemed incredibly dangerous, you would have no option but to rush to a hospital immediately.

Even if you don’t have an oximeter on hand, there are a few symptoms you need to look out for. For instance, you’re more likely to experience:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pains.

You may even notice your lips and fingernails turning blue. Furthermore, your critical thinking is heavily impaired.

You may feel confused, restless, and anxious. To meet the normal oxygen level, your heart rate will increase. And you may get a cough that only gets worse with time.

Is oxygen level 80% bad?

Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

Multiple studies have been conducted to conclude a normal oxygen saturation. Even though a deviation of about 2% is expected, all the research indicated a level between 95% and 100% to be deemed the norm. However, a guideline is also issued that this range only applies to healthy individuals.

For someone suffering from a disease that targets the respiratory system, the level may be as low as 88.

Given the normal range, we get an idea of where things turn sour. The further you stray from this number, the more severe and permanent damage is caused.

At lower than 88%, doctors advise seeking medical assistance right away. You will find yourself confused and restless with only 80% of the normal saturation.

Additionally, your heart will work overtime to compensate for the reduced oxygen levels. Meanwhile, you may have:

  • difficulty breathing
  • pain radiating from your chest.

When your blood oxygen level reached 80%, Hypoxemia will start to show its symptoms. Consider them as warning signs, and they include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing

If you don’t rush to the hospital in time, you won’t instantly collapse. However, the damage to your nervous system and other systems in order will become irreversible.

What does blood oxygen level mean?

Your blood serves many purposes. It is the jack of all trades, from transporting nutrients to the tissues and carrying back waste products to forming blood clots and carrying antibodies to fight infection.

But one function that it’s predominantly known for is transporting oxygen. As you breathe in the air, the oxygen passes through your lungs and bloodstream. From here, it’s transported to every distant cell and tissue.

Therefore, your blood oxygen level represents the volume of oxygen in circulation. The higher your blood oxygen saturation, the richer your blood is with the notable gas.

The red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin, which binds to the oxygen molecule and creates oxyhemoglobin. Hence, the blood oxygen level is a measure of oxyhemoglobin molecules. Once the protein-oxygen molecule reaches its destination, it unwinds as the hemoglobin releases the oxygen.

While we’re sure that the importance of oxygen is not lost on you, it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that every process in the body depends on this gas. Each tissue uses oxygen to produce energy, which is further used to conduct critical reactions.

What are normal oxygen levels during sleep?

finger pulse oximeter

After a hectic day of running errands and completing chores, nothing sounds as good as going to bed. As your body prepares for slumber, it begins slowing down.

The purpose of resting is to allow your body to repair and mend itself. It can function efficiently the next morning when it recovers from the previous day’s stress.

But it’s not only your body that demands some time off. Your mind is likely the most worked organ. Therefore, it, too, deserves a little break.

During your sleep, all your body functions noticeably reduce. For instance, your heart rate drops, and your eye movement slows down. Similarly, your reflex actions aren’t hyperaware.

Since you’re no longer actively pursuing a task or staying alert and cautious, less energy is required. Therefore, less oxygen is needed to be transported by the blood.

As a result of reduced activity and breathing rate, the normal oxygen saturation during sleep and awake differ significantly.

When awake, the normal level is around 95% to 100%. But when you’re sleeping, it drops to a range of 88% to 95%. It may go even lower for some people. But as long as you’re healthy and not suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you should be in the range mentioned above.

RangeBlood Oxygen Level
High90% – 100%
Critically Low<75%

Pneumonia oxygen level

Reduced oxygen levels are seldom part of routine bodily changes. It only surfaces when you dwell in a dangerous habit, such as smoking or maintaining an unhealthy lifestyle. Or it may even be caused by an ailment that targets the lungs and reduces their ability to breathe in O2 gas.

Pneumonia is a symptom of a bacterial or viral infection in which your lung tissue is severely inflamed. As a result of the swelling, the air spaces in the lungs are filled with mucus. Therefore, the lungs’ capacity to hold oxygen reduces drastically. It is why you may find breathing difficult and often gasp for air.

As less oxygen is breathed in by the lungs, less is released into the bloodstream. An O2 saturation of 80% or lower suggests a positive pneumonia diagnosis. Along with a chest x-ray, an Oximeter reading helps conclude whether or not a person is suffering from pneumonia.

The doctors may arrange a ventilator for patients that tested positive to combat the low O2 saturation.

What is the lowest oxygen level before death?

As the oxygen level reduces, your cells begin to die. Down to 88%, a reduction in oxygen saturation brings about no change to your physiology. However, you will face serious consequences when the saturation level drops below 88.

When this happens, the damage isn’t immediate. However, it adds to the feeling of impending doom. You start experiencing different symptoms of oxygen deprivation, including:

As your body processes begin slowing down, your cells start dying.

At 88% to 19.5%, there is still hope for recovery. However, The damage becomes irreversible if the oxygen saturation falls below 19.5%. At this point, the atmosphere is deemed too oxygen-deprived to function properly. Furthermore, you risk fainting and falling unconscious at less than 10%. And finally, the damage is fatal when the saturation drops below 8%.

Causes of oxygen desaturation during sleep

The oxygen saturation index measures the volume of oxygen present in the blood. When the blood O2 level drops, it is referred to as desaturation. Multiple reasons cause desaturation, ranging from illness to routine slowing down.

However, O2 desaturation is almost always observed as you slide into slumber. So you may wonder if your body is following a routine or if something bigger is at play. To help you kill the curiosity, here are all the reasons your blood undergoes O2 desaturation:

Normal circumstances

Desaturation isn’t always a warning signal. Sometimes, it just means your brain cells take some well-deserved time off. Under normal circumstances, your heart rate and eye movement slow down. Additionally, your metabolic reactions and reflex actions begin lagging as well.

When this happens, the body doesn’t require an abundance of O2 gas. Therefore the breathing rate also slows down. As less oxygen is taken in, less is released into the bloodstream.

Sleep Apnea

A desaturation of about 3% to 4% is expected during sleep. However, a more significant reduction in the ODI indicates a more serious problem. Typically, it hints towards sleep apnea.

The sleep disorder interrupts a consistent breathing pattern, suddenly causing oxygen levels to drop. As less oxygen is in circulation, you may wake up from sleep and gasping for air.

Patients suffering from sleep apnea should sleep with an O2 mask on as the desaturation worsens with time.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Morning headache
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Waking up with a dry mouth

At what oxygen level is a ventilator needed

It becomes a cause of concern for healthy individuals when the O2 saturation drops below 95%. However, people suffering from a chronic pulmonary disorder can afford the saturation to be as low as 88%.

Once it gets even lower, the doctors advise you to seek medical assistance immediately. If the saturation remains low for a prolonged period, you risk permanent damage to your tissues. But rest assured, you won’t face any serious consequences if there is a slight delay in reaching the hospital.

Health care intervention is crucial, and the necessary action depends on the blood oxygen level. Check this table for more information.

Blood Oxygen LevelHealth Care Intervention
95% – 100%No intervention necessary
88% – 92%Respiratory assessment and monitoring
85% – 88% Initiation of oxygen therapy
Below 85%Immediate administration of supplemental oxygen

The same can’t be said when the saturation drops below 19.5%. At such a drastically low level, you must be rushed to the hospital immediately. Medical practitioners may put you on a ventilator even on the way to the hospital to avoid any more permanent or severe damage.