Intermittent hypoxia (IH), or periodic exposure to hypoxia interrupted by return to normoxia or less hypoxic conditions, occurs in many circumstances. In high altitude mountaineering, IH is used to optimize acclimatization although laboratory studies have not generally revealed physiologically significant benefits. IH enhances athletic performance at sea level if blood oxygen capacity increases and the usual level of training is not decreased significantly. IH for high altitude workers who commute from low altitude homes is of considerable practical interest and the ideal commuting schedule for physical and mental performance is being studied. The effect of oxygen enrichment at altitude (i.e., intermittent normoxia on a background of chronic hypoxia) on human performance is under study also. Physiological mechanisms of IH, and specifically the differences between effects of IH and acute or chronic continuous hypoxia remains to be determined. Biomedical researchers are defining the molecular and cellular mechanisms for effects of hypoxia on the body in health and disease. A comparative approach may provide additional insight about the biological significance of these effects.