Sleep at high altitude

High Alt Med Biol. 2004 Summer;5(2):180-9. doi: 10.1089/1527029041352162.


New arrivals to altitude commonly experience poor-quality sleep. These complaints are associated with increased fragmentation of sleep by frequent brief arousals, which are in turn linked to periodic breathing. Changes in sleep architecture include a shift toward lighter sleep stages, with marked decrements in slow-wave sleep and with variable decreases in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Respiratory periodicity at altitude reflects alternating respiratory stimulation by hypoxia and subsequent inhibition by hyperventilation-induced hypocapnia. Increased hypoxic ventilatory responsiveness and loss of regularization of breathing during sleep contribute to the occurrence of periodicity. Interventions that improve sleep quality at high altitude include acetazolamide and benzodiazepines.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetazolamide / therapeutic use
  • Altitude Sickness / complications*
  • Altitude Sickness / physiopathology*
  • Altitude Sickness / therapy
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use
  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Respiration
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / etiology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / therapy


  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Acetazolamide