Journal of Applied Physiology

Effect of airway impedance on CO2 retention and respiratory muscle activity during NREM sleep

J. B. Skatrud, J. A. Dempsey, S. Badr, R. L. Begle


We hypothesized that a sleep-induced increase in mechanical impedance contributes to CO2 retention and respiratory muscle recruitment during non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep. The effect NREM sleep on respiratory muscle activity and CO2 retention was measured in healthy subjects who increased maximum total pulmonary resistance (RLmax, 1-81 cmH2O.l-1.s) from awake to NREM sleep. We determined the effects of this sleep-induced increase in airway impedance by steady-state inhalation of a reduced-density gas mixture (79% He-21% O2, He-O2). Both arterialized blood PCO2 (PaCO2) and end-tidal PCO2 (PETCO2) were measured. Inspiratory (EMGinsp) and expiratory (EMGexp) respiratory muscle electromyogram activity was measured. NREM sleep caused 1) RLmax to increase (7 +/- 3 vs. 39 +/- 28 cmH2O.l-1.s), 2) PaCO2 and/or PETCO2 to increase in all subjects (40 +/- 2 vs. 44 +/- 3 Torr), and 3) EMGinsp to increase in 8 of 9 subjects and EMGexp to increase in 9 of 17 subjects. Compared with steady-state air breathing during NREM sleep, steady-state He-O2 breathing 1) reduced RLmax by 38%, 2) decreased PaCO2 and PETCO2 by 2 Torr, and 3) decreased both EMGinsp (-20%) and EMGexp (-54%). We concluded that the sleep-induced increase in upper airway resistance accompanied by the absence of immediate load compensation is an important determinant of CO2 retention, which, in turn, may cause augmentation of inspiratory and expiratory muscle activity above waking levels during NREM sleep.