Effects of short-term CPAP withdrawal on neurobehavioral performance in patients with obstructive sleep apnea

Sleep. 2006 Apr;29(4):545-52. doi: 10.1093/sleep/29.4.545.


Study objective: Changes in sleep parameters and neurobehavioral functioning were systematically investigated after an acute (1 night) and short-term (7 nights) period of withdrawal from continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment and 1 subsequent night of CPAP reintroduction in patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

Design: Repeated-measurement within-subject design.

Setting: Sleep laboratory, university teaching hospital.

Participants: Twenty participants receiving optimal CPAP therapy for > or = 12 months.

Interventions: CPAP withdrawal.

Measurements and results: Polysomnograms were performed on Night 0 (with CPAP), Night 1 and Night 7 (without CPAP) and Night 8_R (with CPAP). Acute CPAP withdrawal resulted in the recurrence of sleep-disordered breathing with sleep disruption, hypoxemia, and increased subjective sleepiness. Short-term CPAP withdrawal exacerbated hypoxemia, increased subjective and objective sleepiness and poor mood ratings. Neurobehavioral functioning assessed using the Psychomotor Vigilance Task was impaired following Night 7 and associated with hypoxemia and changes in morning levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha. However, other neurobehavioral measures were not affected. Autonomic arousals measured via respiratory-related reductions in finger blood volume by peripheral arterial tonometry decreased from Night 1 to Night 7. On Night 8_R, reintroduction of CPAP treatment eliminated most airway obstruction, maintained oxygenation, and reversed daytime sleepiness and some vigilance decrements.

Conclusion: Despite recurrence of sleep-disordered breathing with increased sleepiness and impaired vigilance, most neurobehavioral variables were unaffected by CPAP withdrawal. The reduction in vigilance appeared to be associated with worsened hypoxemia and changed levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha. Resumption of CPAP treatment had immediate benefits on sleep consolidation and subjective sleepiness.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure / methods*
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / diagnosis
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / epidemiology
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polysomnography
  • Reaction Time
  • Recurrence
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / therapy*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Withholding Treatment* / statistics & numerical data


  • Cytokines