Relationship of chronic pain and opioid use with respiratory disturbance during sleep

Pain Manag Nurs. 2012 Jun;13(2):70-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2010.04.003. Epub 2010 Nov 19.


This research assessed: 1) whether patients thought to have sleep disordered breathing would have more severe symptoms if they were taking opioids; 2) whether severity of sleep disordered breathing was associated with class or dose of opioid; and 3) whether pain intensity was associated with sleep disordered breathing. A descriptive cross-sectional study of patients referred for assessment of sleep disorders was conducted. Data were collected on a total of 419 subjects (no pain [n = 171], chronic pain without opioid treatment [n = 187], and chronic pain with opioid treatment [n = 61]). The findings suggest that regardless of opioid drug or dose, the management of chronic pain with opioids is not likely to exacerbate obstructive sleep apnea at stable doses. However, central sleep apnea was associated with opioid use. Patients with chronic pain taking opioids had a mean of 5 ± 13 central apneic events per hour compared with 1.6 ± 7 events per hour in patients without pain and not taking opioids. Oxygen saturation mean nadir 83.5% (opioid group) versus 82.9% (no pain, pain without opioid) was not significantly different. The clinical relevance of the effect is unknown, so the potential for marginal respiratory disturbance (an increase of 2.8 central events per hour for every 100 mg morphine-equivalent opioid dose) must be weighed against the therapeutic value of pain management with opioids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Chronic Pain / epidemiology*
  • Chronic Pain / nursing
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polysomnography
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / epidemiology*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / nursing
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / diagnosis
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / nursing
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / epidemiology
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / nursing
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid