Previous investigations involving continuous blood pressure (BP) monitoring have shown an important alteration of the 24-hour BP profile in patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS). We investigated the impact of REM sleep on the 24-hour BP cycle in 16 severe OSAS male patients (mean respiratory disturbance index = 66 +/- 16 events/hour of sleep), with hypertension (mean BP 162 +/- 21/105 +/- 11 mmHg World Health Organization (WHO) protocol). Two successive nights of polysomnography were performed, and arterial BP was monitored continuously during the second 24-hour period after brachial artery cannulation. During the daytime, subjects were kept awake and supine. At 3 p.m. BP was continuously monitored during quiet supine wakefulness for 20 minutes. Systolic, diastolic and mean BP and heart rate (HR) were analyzed and tabulated in mean values of 5 minute segments. Sleep/wake information were correlated with cardiovascular variables. Each uninterrupted REM sleep period was identified and comparison between the period of quiet supine wakefulness and REM sleep HR and BP values was performed. 8 OSAS patients presented a normal drop of the mean arterial BP during the nocturnal REM sleep periods compared to quiet supine wakefulness (mean value = -10.8 +/- 7.3 mmHg) ("dippers") while the other 8 subjects ("REM sleep non dippers"), revealed an elevated mean arterial BP during REM sleep (mean value = 18.9 +/- 10.9 mm Hg). The absence of the normal circadian BP dip seen during the nocturnal sleep period is considered as an indication of vascular risk. The REM sleep non dipping may play a role in this risk.