Opioids, sleep architecture and sleep-disordered breathing

Sleep Med Rev. 2007 Feb;11(1):35-46. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2006.03.006. Epub 2006 Dec 1.


Opioid use whether acute or chronic, illicit or therapeutic is prevalent in Western societies. Opioid receptors are located in the same nuclei that are active in sleep regulation and opioid peptides are suggested to be involved in the induction and maintenance of the sleep state. mu-Opioids are the most commonly used opioids and are recognized respiratory depressants that cause abnormal awake ventilatory responses to hypercapnia and hypoxia. Abnormal sleep architecture has been reported during the process of opioids induction, maintenance and withdrawal. During induction and maintenance of opioid use there is reduction of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and slow wave sleep. More recently, central sleep apnoea (CSA) has been reported with chronic opioid use and 30% of stable methadone maintenance treatment patients have CSA. Given these facts, it is sobering to note the paucity of human data available regarding the effects of short and long-term opioid use on sleep architecture and respiration during sleep. In this manuscript, we review the current knowledge regarding the effects of mu-opioids on sleep and respiration during sleep and suggest research pathways to advance our knowledge and to explore the possible responsible mechanisms related to these effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Opioid / drug effects
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / etiology*
  • Sleep Apnea, Central / chemically induced
  • Sleep, REM / drug effects*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Receptors, Opioid