Does sleep deprivation worsen mild obstructive sleep apnea?

Sleep. 2003 Dec 15;26(8):1038-41. doi: 10.1093/sleep/26.8.1038.


Study objectives: Sleep deprivation is believed to worsen obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). We assessed the effect of acute sleep deprivation on polysomnography in a cohort of subjects with mild OSA and a cohort of subjects without OSA.

Design: Crossover study in which subjects initially had polysomnography after a normal night's sleep or after 36 hours of sleep deprivation, followed by a 2- to 4-week interval, after which subjects were restudied under the alternate testing condition.

Setting and participants: 13 subjects with mild OSA and 16 subjects without OSA were studied in a university teaching hospital sleep laboratory.

Interventions: 36 hours of supervised sleep deprivation.

Measurements: Subjects' age, body mass index, neck circumference and Epworth Sleepiness Scale scores were measured; actigraphy and sleep diaries were used to estimate prior sleep debt before each sleep study.

Results: Sleep deprivation was found to significantly increase total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and rapid eye movement and slow-wave sleep time. Subjects with OSA showed a lower minimum oxygen saturation after sleep deprivation. However, subjects did not show a significantly different respiratory disturbance index, arousal index, or length of the longest apnea after sleep deprivation.

Conclusions: Acute sleep deprivation did not worsen most OSA parameters as measured by polysomnography. A lower minimum oxygen saturation in mild OSA subjects after sleep deprivation may be important in patients with significant cardiorespiratory disease. More research is needed to assess whether daytime performance and function (eg, driving, sleepiness) is more greatly impaired in OSA subjects who are sleep deprived, compared to normal subjects who are sleep deprived.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polysomnography
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / complications*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Deprivation / complications*
  • Sleep Deprivation / diagnosis*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology