Study objectives: Polysomnographic respiratory abnormalities have been extensively studied in the general population, but studies have not targeted completely healthy individuals. We aimed to (1) define the frequency of respiratory disturbances (RDI: events per hour of sleep) during sleep in healthy individuals using current techniques and criteria and (2) determine how these abnormalities change with age and sex.
Design and setting: Cross-sectional analyses of RDI in healthy volunteers.
Participants: One hundred sixty-three individuals (106 men) were screened for chronic medical illness, as confirmed by extensive questionnaires, physical examination, electrocardiography, and laboratory analysis. Obese subjects (body mass index > 30 kg/m2) and subjects taking medications were excluded. INTERVENTIONS, MEASUREMENTS AND RESULTS: Subjects underwent full polysomnography using current standard recording and scoring techniques. There was a remarkable increase in RDI with age, particularly over 50 years. Ninety-five percent of currently healthy subjects under 50 years of age had an RDI <15, whereas 50% of subjects older than 65 years had an RDI <15. Men had a higher RDI (median 10) than women (median 5). The effect of age on RDI was similar in men and women.
Conclusions: RDI increases with age even in healthy individuals without symptoms or signs of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. We do not know whether these individuals will develop pathophysiologic consequences over time or whether this increase with age reflects a normal aging process. If the former, treatment should be considered regardless of symptoms. If the latter, the criteria for treatment should be adjusted by age.