A sleep-induced apneic threshold and its consequences

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1986 Jun;133(6):1163-70. doi: 10.1164/arrd.1986.133.6.1163.


We have emphasized the mechanisms and consequences of sleep state effects on the manifestation of a sensitive apneic threshold. In the absence of the stabilizing influences of wakefulness, even the healthy person is vulnerable to instabilities and ventilatory control as maintenance of a rhythmic breathing pattern becomes overwhelmingly dependent on CO2. This sleep-induced unmasking of the depressant effects of hypocapnia contrasts with the relatively minor effects of sleep on the ventilatory response to a wide variety of other acute or chronic ventilatory stimuli or inhibitors. This combination of an apneic threshold with a maintained hypoxic (and asphyxic) responsiveness during non-REM sleep probably explains much of the periodic breathing in hypoxic sleep in adults and in newborns. Furthermore, applying acute hypoxia to persons with upper airways that are susceptible to collapse, i.e., snorers, showed that fluctuating chemical stimuli and the accompanying instability in ventilatory control during sleep can cause obstructive apnea, at least under conditions where chemoreceptor stimuli are sufficient to initiate some inspiratory effort but insufficient to insure a completely patent upper airway. We emphasize that chemoreceptor-induced instability and/or apnea probably plays little or no role in the induction of many other varieties of sleep apnea including most obstructive sleep apneas and perhaps even in some types of nonobstructive apnea. The consequences of these chemoreceptor-induced instabilities are, of course, substantial in terms of impairment of pulmonary gas exchange and the precipitation of events that contribute significantly to the development of chronic cor pulmonale.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Differential Threshold
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Periodicity
  • Respiration
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / etiology*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / physiopathology
  • Stimulation, Chemical