To determine the effect of transtracheal insufflation (TTI) on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), we examined breathing patterns in five tracheostomized patients with OSA at varying TTI flow rates when breathing with a closed tracheostomy. The breathing patterns and polysomnographic responses to air insufflation were studied as TTI was increased from 0 to 15 L/min for brief periods of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep (Experiment 1). The frequency of sleep-disordered breathing episodes remained high at 0 and 5 L/min (87.0 +/- 33.7 and 79.4 +/- 24.4 episodes per hour NREM) and decreased significantly to 41.3 +/- 31.5 and 43.4 +/- 31.4 episodes/h NREM sleep at rates of 10 and 15 L/min, respectively (p = 0.003). At high levels of TTI (10 and 15 L/min), obstructive apneas and hypopneas decreased but periodic laryngeal obstructions were induced during stage 1 NREM sleep. To prevent laryngeal obstructions, a servo-control system was used to briefly interrupt TTI during these events. When this system was implemented for more prolonged periods of sleep (Experiment 2, total sleep time 176.6 +/- 12.5 min), high-flow TTI (hf-TTI, 15 L/min) led to an overall reduction in the combined frequency of obstructive apneas and laryngeal obstructions from 63.8 +/- 21.8 to 10.7 +/- 9.1 (p < 0.03) and was associated with a marked reduction in arousal frequency from 60.0 +/- 26.0 to 8. 3 +/- 5.4/h in NREM sleep, and from 67.5 +/- 3.5 to 0 +/- 0/h in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Our findings demonstrate that hf-TTI stabilized breathing patterns in apneic patients, and was safe and efficacious for prolonged periods of sleep.