Sleep disordered breathing in patients receiving therapy with buprenorphine/naloxone

Eur Respir J. 2013 Aug;42(2):394-403. doi: 10.1183/09031936.00120012. Epub 2012 Oct 25.


Patients using chronic opioids are at risk for exceptionally complex and potentially lethal disorders of breathing during sleep, including central and obstructive apnoeas, hypopnoeas, ataxic breathing and nonapnoeic hypoxaemia. Buprenorphine, a partial μ-opioid agonist with limited respiratory toxicity, is widely used for the treatment of opioid dependency and chronic nonmalignant pain. However, its potential for causing sleep disordered breathing has not been studied. 70 consecutive patients admitted for therapy with buprenorphine/naloxone were routinely evaluated with sleep medicine consultation and attended polysomnography. The majority of patients were young (mean±sd age 31.8±12.3 years), nonobese (mean±sd body mass index 24.9±5.9 kg·m(-2)) and female (60%). Based upon the apnoea/hypopnoea index (AHI), at least mild sleep disordered breathing (AHI ≥5 events·h(-1)) was present in 63% of the group. Moderate (AHI ≥15- <30 events·h(-1)) and severe (AHI ≥30 events·h(-1)) sleep apnoea was present in 16% and 17%, respectively. Hypoxaemia, defined as an arterial oxygen saturation measured by pulse oximetry, of <90% for ≥10% of sleep time, was present in 27 (38.6%) patients. Despite the putative protective ceiling effect regarding ventilatory suppression observed during wakefulness, buprenorphine may induce significant alterations of breathing during sleep at routine therapeutic doses.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Buprenorphine / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Naloxone / adverse effects*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / adverse effects*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / complications
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy
  • Polysomnography
  • Respiration
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / chemically induced*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Naloxone
  • Buprenorphine