Arousal from sleep produces transient increases in systemic blood pressure, leading to the suggestion that repeated arousals are associated with a sustained increase in daytime blood pressure. Using data from the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study, a population-based study, we tested the hypothesis that sleep fragmentation is associated with elevated awake blood pressure. Sleep, breathing, and seated blood pressure measurements from 1,021 participants (age 42 +/- 8 yr; 590 males) were analyzed. Sleep fragmentation was defined as the total number of awakenings and shifts to Stage 1 sleep divided by the total sleep time (sleep fragmentation index: SFI). To reduce the confounding influence of sleep-disordered breathing, which is related to both increased daytime blood pressure and sleep fragmentation, all participants with an apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) > or = 1 were analyzed separately. Accounting for the influences of sex, age, body mass index, and antihypertensive medication use, the SFI was significantly associated with higher levels of awake systolic blood pressure in people with an AHI < 1; a 2 standard deviation increase in the SFI was associated with a 3.1 mm Hg rise in awake systolic blood pressure. In participants with an AHI > or = 1, there was no independent association between the SFI and awake blood pressure after controlling for the influence of the AHI.