The effect of flow limitation on the cardiorespiratory response to arousal from sleep under controlled conditions of chemostimulation in healthy older adults

J Sleep Res. 2012 Dec;21(6):718-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2012.01019.x. Epub 2012 Aug 20.


The influence of flow limitation on the magnitude of the cardiorespiratory response to arousal from sleep is of interest in older people, because they experience considerable flow limitation and frequent arousals from sleep. We studied older flow-limiting subjects, testing the hypothesis that the cardiorespiratory activation response would be larger when arousal occurred during flow limitation, compared to no flow limitation, and chemical stimuli were controlled. In 11 older adults [mean ± standard deviation (SD) age: 68 ± 5 years] ventilation was stabilized using continuous positive airway pressure, and flow limitation was induced by dialling down the pressure. Partial pressure of end-tidal carbon dioxide (PetCO(2)) was maintained by titration of the inspired CO(2) and hyperoxia was maintained using 40% O(2) balanced with nitrogen. Flow limitation at the time of arousal did not augment cardiovascular activation response (heart rate P = 0.7; systolic blood pressure P = 0.6; diastolic blood pressure P = 0.3), whereas ventilation was greater following arousals during flow limitation compared to no flow limitation (P < 0.001). The pre-post-arousal differences in ventilation reflected significant pre-arousal suppression (due to flow limitation) plus post-arousal activation. In summary, the cardiovascular response to arousal from sleep is not influenced by flow limitation at the time of arousal, when chemical stimuli are controlled in older adults. This finding may contribute to the decreased cardiovascular burden associated with sleep-disordered breathing reported in older adults, although our data do not exclude the possibility that flow limitation in the presence of mild hypoxic hypercapnia could increase the cardiovascular response to arousal.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure / instrumentation
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure / methods*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electromyography
  • Electrooculography
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitrogen
  • Oxygen
  • Plethysmography
  • Sleep / physiology*


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Nitrogen
  • Oxygen