Patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) are often obese and frequently complain of tiredness. These features are also characteristically seen in patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Therefore, it was the aim of this study to assess the prevalence of OSA among a group of obese NIDDM patients who have some clinical features of OSA. The effect of reversal of OSA by nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment on insulin responsiveness was also investigated. From a population of 179 NIDDM patients with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 35 kg/m2, we performed ambulatory sleep monitoring on 31 (15 males and 16 females) who admitted to either heavy snoring or excessive sleepiness. Results were reviewed by a sleep physician blinded to the clinical status of the patients, and 22 (70%) were found to have moderate or severe OSA, with mean oxygen desaturation indexes of 10.3 +/- 5.3 and 30.7 +/- 13.2 episodes/h, respectively. A subgroup of 10 patients (seven males and three females) with a mean BMI of 42.7 +/- 4.3 kg/m2 was treated with nightly CPAP for 4 months. These subjects all had significant OSA, with frequent obstructive apneas (mean, 47 +/- 31.6 episodes/h) and oxygen desaturation (mean minimum O2 saturation, 74 +/- 9.5%), as determined by polysomnography. One patient was excluded from analysis because of infrequent use of CPAP. Insulin responsiveness in terms of glucose disposal measured by hyperinsulinemic euglycemic clamps improved from 11.4 +/- 6.2 to 15.1 +/- 4.6 mumol/kg.min (P < 0.05) during CPAP treatment. These results indicate that OSA occurs commonly in obese NIDDM patients with excessive sleepiness or heavy snoring. Treatment of their OSA may improve insulin responsiveness.