To determine the dynamic effects of short-term nasal positive airway pressure (nPAP) on cardiovascular autonomic control, continuous recordings of noninvasively obtained hemodynamic measurements and heart rate variability (HRV) were obtained in 10 healthy subjects during frequency-controlled breathing (between 0.20 and 0.24 Hz) in supine posture under different pressures of nPAP ranging from 3 to 20 cmH(2)O. HRV was assessed using spectral analysis of the R-R interval. The slope of the regression line between spontaneous systolic blood pressure and pulse interval changes was taken as an index of the sensitivity of arterial baroreflex modulation of heart rate (sequence method). Application of nPAP resulted in a pressure-dependent decrease of cardiac output and stroke volume (P < 0.05, ANOVA) and in an increase in total peripheral resistance (P < 0.03, ANOVA). Hemodynamic changes under increasing nPAP were accompanied by a decrease in total power of HRV despite mean R-R interval remaining unchanged. The overall decrease in HRV was accompanied by a reduction across all frequency bands when absolute units were used (P < 0.01). When the power of low frequency and high frequency was calculated in normalized units, a diminished high frequency and an increased low-to-high frequency ratio were observed (P < 0.05). Compared with low levels of nPAP, pressure levels of >10 cmH(2)O were associated with a significant decline in the mean slope of spontaneous baroreceptor sequences (P < 0.04). These findings indicate that short-term administration of nPAP in normal subjects exerts significant alterations in R-R interval variability and spontaneous baroreflex modulation of heart rate.