Sleep and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Sleep Med Rev. 2004 Aug;8(4):281-94. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2004.03.006.


Patients with COPD who are hypoxaemic during wakefulness become more hypoxaemic during sleep. The most severe episodes of nocturnal desaturation generally occur during REM sleep. There is a strong relationship between nocturnal O2 saturation and the level of daytime PaO2: the more pronounced daytime hypoxaemia, the more severe nocturnal hypoxaemia. The worsening of hypoxaemia is due to a variable combination of alveolar hypoventilation and ventilation-perfusion mismatching, alveolar hypoventilation being the predominant mechanism, at least during REM sleep. The consequences of sleep-related hypoxaemia include peaks of pulmonary hypertension due to hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction, generally observed in patients with marked daytime hypoxaemia. Cardiac arrhythmias have been described but their clinical relevance has not been established. The prevalence of obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) is not greater in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients than in the general population, but this association (Overlap Syndrome) is not rare since COPD and OSAS are both frequent diseases. Overlap patients are at a higher risk of developing respiratory insufficiency than are pure OSAS patients. Polysomnography is only indicated in COPD patients who are suspected of having OSAS. The treatment of nocturnal hypoxaemia is conventional O2 therapy (> or = 16/24 h) in COPD patients with marked daytime hypoxaemia (PaO2 < 55-60 mmHg) and conventional O2 therapy plus nocturnal non-invasive ventilation in some patients with marked hypercapnia. At present data are not sufficient for justifying the use of isolated nocturnal oxygen therapy in COPD patients with nocturnal desaturation but with mild daytime hypoxaemia (PaO2 > 60 mmHg).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / epidemiology
  • Hemodynamics / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypoventilation / epidemiology
  • Hypoxia / complications
  • Hypoxia / epidemiology
  • Hypoxia / therapy
  • Lung / blood supply
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Oxygen / therapeutic use
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / epidemiology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / epidemiology
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / etiology*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Wakefulness


  • Oxygen