Insufficient cooperation during administration of aerosols by pressurized metered dose inhaler (pMDI)/spacers is a problem in nearly 50% of treated children younger than 2 years. For these children, administration during sleep might be more efficient. However, it is unknown how much aerosol reaches the lungs during sleep. The aim of this study was to determine in vitro the lung dose in young children from a pMDI/spacer during sleep and while being awake. Breathing patterns were recorded by a pneumotachograph in 18 children (age 11 +/- 5.1 months) during sleep and wakefulness. Next, breathing patterns were replayed by a computer-controlled breathing simulator to which an anatomically correct nose-throat model of a 9-month-old child was attached. One puff of budesonide (200 microg) was administered to the model via a metal spacer. Aerosol was trapped in a filter placed between model and breathing simulator. The amount of budesonide on the filter (5 lung dose) was analyzed by HPLC. For each of the 36 breathing patterns, lung dose was measured in triplicate. The sleep breathing patterns had significantly lower respiratory rate and peak inspiratory flows, and smaller variability in respiratory rate, tidal volume, and peak inspiratory flows. Lung dose (mean +/- SD) was 6.5 +/- 3.2 and 11.3 +/- 3.9 microg (p = 0.004) for the wake and sleep breathing pattern, respectively. This infant model-study shows that the lung dose of budesonide by pMDI/spacer is significantly higher during sleep compared to inhalation during wake breathing. Administration of aerosols during sleep might, therefore, be an efficient alternative for uncooperative toddlers.