Apneic episodes are frequent in the preterm neonate and particularly in active sleep (AS), when functional residual capacity (FRC) can be decreased. Furthermore, FRC may be inversely correlated with the speed of blood-O(2)-desaturation. We evaluated the potential involvement of FRC in the mechanisms responsible for blood-O(2)-desaturation during short central apneic events (>3 s) in "late-preterm" infants and analyzed the specific influence of sleep state. Apneic events were scored in 29 neonates (postmenstrual age: 36.1 +/- 1.2 wk) during AS and quiet sleep (QS). FRC was measured during well-established periods of regular breathing. Apneas with blood-O(2)-desaturation (drop in SpO(2) >5% from the baseline, lowest SpO(2) during apnea: 91.4 +/- 1.8%) were more frequent in AS than in QS, whereas no difference was seen for apneas without desaturation. The magnitude of the FRC did not depend on the sleep state. In AS only, there was a negative relationship between FRC and the proportion of apneas with desaturation. Even in late preterm infants who do not experience long-lasting apnea, blood-O(2)-desaturation during short apneic events is related (in AS but not QS) to a low baseline FRC. Sleep stage differences argue for a major role of AS-related mechanisms in the occurrence of these apneas.