In 48 conscious resting subjects we examined the temporal coupling of heart beat timing and the onset of inspiration (cardioventilatory coupling), and the relationship between coupling and spectral indices of autonomic function. Using the proportional Shannon entropy (SH(alpha)) of the RI(-1) interval (interval between inspiration and the preceding ECG R wave) as a measure of coupling we detected statistically significant coupling in 32 of the 48 subjects. This was confirmed by visual inspection of time series plots of RI intervals, in which coupling was evident as horizontal banding. Coupling resulted in a significant preference for whole number heart rate/respiratory frequency ratios. The strongest coupling was associated with low ventilatory frequency and high heart rate variability in the high (0.15-0.40 Hz) and low (0.04-0.15 Hz) frequency ranges, but was not related to blood pressure variability, or to a spectral measure of baroreflex sensitivity (alpha-index, low frequency range). There was no difference in coupling strength between males and females. We have previously described cardioventilatory coupling in spontaneously breathing anaesthetised subjects. The current study extends those observations by demonstrating that the qualitative features of coupling seen during anaesthesia are also observed in the conscious state. We conclude that the role of coupling in normal physiological respiratory control needs to be more widely explored.