Previous studies have shown that premature infants may be at risk for hypoxemia and bradycardia when placed in standard car seats. However, the relationship of such breathing abnormalities to sleep state have not been studied. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effect of car seat positioning on respiratory patterns in preterm infants during sleep and to evaluate their relationship to sleep state. Complete polysomnography, including sleep and breathing parameters, was performed on twenty-eight premature infants. Each infant was randomly assigned to the car seat or prone (crib) position for the first recording period. Following the recording of at least two sleep cycles, the position was reversed. The percentage of active and quiet sleep was calculated and breathing parameters were measured. In the car seat, the infants spent significantly more time in active sleep and less time in quiet sleep than in the prone position, of the respiratory parameters, periodic breathing (PB) was significantly higher in the car seat. The presence of at least one abnormal breathing events (bradycardia, desaturation, PB apnoea) was also significantly higher in the car seat. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) of PB revealed significant sleep-state effect (active vs. quiet sleep), but no significant condition or interaction effects, indicating that PB was more frequent in active sleep regardless of the sleeping condition. It is concluded that increased active sleep in the car seat condition, rather than the positioning of the infant in the seat per se, may account for the increase in periodic breathing and possibly other breathing abnormalities reported in car seats.