In neonates, rib cage motion on inspiration during rapid eye movement sleep is almost exclusively paradoxical. We wondered whether or not duration of paradoxical inward rib cage motion on inspiration during rapid eye movement sleep decreases in infancy and early childhood. Thirteen healthy infants from 7 to 31 months of age were tested during natural afternoon naps. Electroencephalogram, electrooculogram and electromyogram were all recorded. Airflow was measured by nasal and buccal thermistors, abdominal and rib cage anteroposterior diameters by magnetometers. Transcutaneous partial pressure of O2 was monitored. Diaphragmatic electromyographic activity was recorded using surface electrodes. The average total sleep time was 138 min ranging from 107 to 186 and rapid eye movement sleep time amounted to 15% of total sleep time ranging from 6 to 25. During rapid eye movement sleep, the total duration of paradoxical inward rib cage motion was measured and expressed as a percentage of rapid eye movement sleep time. We found that duration of paradoxical inward rib cage motion during rapid eye movement sleep decreased significantly with age (r = -0.66, P less than 0.02) which may be explained by the changes in chest wall compliance and geometry of the rib cage occurring with growth. We observed no decrease in transcutaneous partial pressure in O2 during paradoxical inward rib cage motion during rapid eye movement sleep in infants in contrast to that reported in neonates.