The aim of this exploratory study was to examine the relationship of electroencephalogram (EEG) arousals to breathing patterns and the relationship of both arousals and breathing patterns to arterial oxygenation during sleep in older adults. Five older adults were monitored using standard polysomnography. Records were divided into 5-min segments and breathing patterns identified based on the level of respiratory periodicity and the variability in the frequency of breathing cycles. Standard criteria were used to determine sleep states and occurrence of EEG arousals. High respiratory periodicity was seen in 23% of the segments, whereas 24% had low respiratory periodicity with minimal variability in the frequency of breathing (Type A low respiratory periodicity) and 53% had low respiratory periodicity with high variability in the frequency of breathing (Type B low respiratory periodicity). Nearly all (97%) segments with high respiratory periodicity had EEG arousals, whereas fewer segments (33%) with low respiratory periodicity had arousals, regardless of the stage of sleep. Desaturations occurred more often in segments with high respiratory periodicity, F((2,4)) = 57.3, p < .001, but overall, the mean SaO(2) of segments with high respiratory periodicity did not differ from levels seen in segments with low respiratory periodicity, F((2,4)) = 0.77, ns. Our findings suggest that high respiratory periodicity is a common feature of EEG arousals and, in older adults, may be important for maintaining oxygen levels during desaturations during sleep.