Effects of submental electrical stimulation during sleep on upper airway patency in patients with obstructive sleep apnea

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1989 Nov;140(5):1285-9. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/140.5.1285.


We examined the effects of percutaneous electrical stimulation of the genioglossus in six patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) during sleep and investigated the possible applicability of this procedure as a treatment of OSAS. Six patients with OSAS were polysomnographically studied in the supine position during all-night sessions with and without electrical stimulation of the genioglossus. Using an apnea demand-type stimulator that we developed, electrical pulses of 0.5 ms (repetition rate, 50 Hz) and 15 to 40 V were delivered through bipolar electrodes (10 mm in diameter) attached to the skin of the submental region when apnea lasted more than 5 s, and was stopped immediately after breathing resumed or after 10 s at the longest. With submental stimulation, the apnea index, apnea time/total sleep time, longest apnea duration, and the number of times per hour that oxygen saturation dropped below 85% decreased significantly compared with those on control nights. The lowest arterial oxygen saturation and the duration of sleep stages III and IV increased significantly. The stimulation employed did not cause arousal, and it did not affect blood pressure or heart rate significantly. These findings show that submental stimulation decreases the incidence of apnea episodes and promotes deeper sleep without accompanying serious side effects, suggesting that the apnea demand-type stimulator may be a noninvasive and effective treatment for OSAS.

MeSH terms

  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscles / physiopathology
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Stages / physiology
  • Subliminal Stimulation*
  • Time Factors
  • Tongue / physiopathology
  • Trachea / physiopathology*