Altitude acclimatization: influence on periodic breathing and chemoresponsiveness during sleep

J Appl Physiol (1985). 1987 Jul;63(1):401-12. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1987.63.1.401.


Although the influence of altitude acclimatization on respiration has been carefully studied, the associated changes in hypoxic and hypercapnic ventilatory responses are the subject of controversy with neither response being previously evaluated during sleep at altitude. Therefore, six healthy males were studied at sea level and on nights 1, 4, and 7 after arrival at altitude (14,110 ft). During wakefulness, ventilation and the ventilatory responses to hypoxia and hypercapnia were determined on each occasion. During both non-rapid-eye-movement and rapid-eye-movement sleep, ventilation, ventilatory pattern, and the hypercapnic ventilatory response (measured at ambient arterial O2 saturation) were determined. There were four primary observations from this study: 1) the hypoxic ventilatory response, although similar to sea level values on arrival at altitude, increased steadily with acclimatization up to 7 days; 2) the slope of the hypercapnic ventilatory response increased on initial exposure to a hypoxic environment (altitude) but did not increase further with acclimatization, although the position of this response shifted steadily to the left (lower PCO2 values); 3) the sleep-induced decrements in both ventilation and hypercapnic responsiveness at altitude were equivalent to those observed at sea level with similar acclimatization occurring during wakefulness and sleep; and 4) the quantity of periodic breathing during sleep at altitude was highly variable and tended to occur more frequently in individuals with higher ventilatory responses to both hypoxia and hypercapnia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization*
  • Adult
  • Altitude
  • Carbon Dioxide / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypercapnia / physiopathology
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Partial Pressure
  • Respiration*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Wakefulness / physiology


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Oxygen