We measured ventilation in all sleep stages in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) and moderate to severe lung disease, and compared the effects of low-flow oxygen (LFO2) and bilevel ventilatory support (BVS) on ventilation and gas exchange during sleep. Thirteen subjects, age 26 +/- 5.9 yr (mean +/- 1 SD), body mass index (BMI) 20 +/- 3 kg/m2, FEV1 32 +/- 11% predicted, underwent three sleep studies breathing, in random order, room air (RA), LFO2, and BVS +/- O2 with recording of oxyhemoglobin saturation (SpO2) (%) and transcutaneous carbon dioxide (TcCO2) (mm Hg). During RA and LFO2 studies, patients wore a nasal mask with a baseline continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) of 4 to 5 cm H2O. Minute ventilation (V I) was measured using a pneumotachograph in the circuit and was not different between wake and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep on any night. However, V I was reduced on the RA and LFO2 nights from awake to rapid eye movement (REM) (p < 0.01) and from NREM to REM (p < 0.01). On the BVS night there was no significant difference in V I between NREM and REM sleep. Both BVS and LFO2 improved nocturnal SpO2, especially during REM sleep (p < 0.05). The rise in TcCO2 seen with REM sleep with both RA and LFO2 was attenuated with BVS (p < 0.05). We conclude that BVS leads to improvements in alveolar ventilation during sleep in this patient group.