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Arousal and breathing responses to airway occlusion in healthy sleeping adults.

ABSTRACT The arousal and breathing responses to total airway occlusion during sleep were measured in 12 normal subjects (7 males and 5 females) aged 25-36 yr. Subjects slept while breathing through a specially designed nosemask, which was glued to the nose with medical-grade silicon rubber. The lips were sealed together with a thin layer of Silastic. The nosemask was attached to a wide-bore (20 mm ID) rigid tube to allow a constant-bias flow of room air from a blower. Total airway occlusion was achieved by simultaneously inflating two rubber balloons fixed in the inspiratory and expiratory pipes. A total of 39 tests were done in stage III/IV nonrapid-eye movement (NREM) sleep in 11 subjects and 10 tests in rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep in 5 subjects. The duration of total occlusion tolerated before arousal from NREM sleep varied widely (range 0.9-67.0 s) with a mean duration of 20.4 +/- 2.3 (SE) s. The breathing response to occlusion in NREM sleep was characterised by a breath-by-breath progressive increase in suction pressure achieved by an increase in the rate of inspiratory pressure generation during inspiration. In contrast, during REM sleep, arousal invariably occurred after a short duration of airway occlusion (mean duration 6.2 +/- 1.2 s, maximum duration 11.8 s), and the occlusion induced a rapid shallow breathing pattern. Our results indicate that total nasal occlusion during sleep causes arousal with the response during REM sleep being more predictable and with a generally shorter latency than that in NREM sleep.

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