The impact of body posture and sleep stages on sleep apnea severity in adults

J Clin Sleep Med. 2012 Dec 15;8(6):655-66A. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.2258.


Study objectives: Determining the presence and severity of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is based on apnea and hypopnea event rates per hour of sleep. Making this determination presents a diagnostic challenge, given that summary metrics do not consider certain factors that influence severity, such as body position and the composition of sleep stages.

Methods: We retrospectively analyzed 300 consecutive diagnostic PSGs performed at our center to determine the impact of body position and sleep stage on sleep apnea severity.

Results: The median percent of REM sleep was 16% (reduced compared to a normal value of ~25%). The median percent supine sleep was 65%. Fewer than half of PSGs contained > 10 min in each of the 4 possible combinations of REM/NREM and supine/non-supine. Half of patients had > 2-fold worsening of the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) in REM sleep, and 60% had > 2-fold worsening of AHI while supine. Adjusting for body position had greater impact on the AHI than adjusting for reduced REM%. Misclassification--specifically underestimation of OSA severity--is attributed more commonly to body position (20% to 40%) than to sleep stage (~10%).

Conclusions: Supine-dominance and REM-dominance commonly contribute to AHI underestimation in single-night PSGs. Misclassification of OSA severity can be mitigated in a patient-specific manner by appropriate consideration of these variables. The results have implications for the interpretation of single-night measurements in clinical practice, especially with trends toward home testing devices that may not measure body position or sleep stage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype
  • Polysomnography*
  • Posture*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / genetics
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Sleep Stages*
  • Sleep, REM
  • Supine Position