Ambulatory blood pressure (BP) was measured noninvasively (Oxford Medilog ABP) at 15-minute intervals for 24 hours before and after 8 weeks of treatment with nasal continuous positive airway pressure (nCPAP) in 19 men with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). We included both normotensive and hypertensive patients, but hypertensives were studied after withdrawal of antihypertensive drugs. Ambulatory BP before and after treatment was compared using patients as their own controls. Treatment with nCPAP was successfully established in 14 of the 19 patients (74%). Blood pressure fell significantly in patients who were successfully treated: 24-hour mean BP (systolic/diastolic) decreased from 141 +/- 18/89 +/- 11 mm Hg to 134 +/- 19/85 +/- 13 mm Hg (p < 0.05). The reduction in 24-hour mean systolic BP occurred during both day and night, but a significant fall in mean diastolic BP was only observed during the day. The mean blood pressure fell in both normotensive and hypertensive patients. Patients who were inadequately treated with nCPAP had no reduction in mean 24-hour BP. Effective treatment of sleep apnea with nCPAP was associated with a significant fall in both systolic and diastolic BP independent of changes in body weight or alcohol consumption, suggesting that sleep apnea was an independent factor contributing to elevated nighttime and daytime BP in these patients.