Obstructive sleep apnea can induce hypertension. Apneas in REM may be particularly problematic: they are independently associated with hypertension. We examined the role of sleep stage and awakening on acute cardiovascular responses to apnea. Also, we measured cardiovascular and sympathetic changes induced by chronic sleep apnea in REM sleep.
We used rats with tracheal balloons and electroencephalogram and electromyogram electrodes to induce obstructive apnea during wakefulness and sleep. We measured the electrocardiogram and arterial pressure by telemetry and breathing effort with a thoracic balloon.
Apneas induced during wakefulness caused a pressor response, intense bradycardia, and breathing effort. On termination of apnea, arterial pressure, heart rate, and breathing effort returned to basal levels within 10 s. Responses to apnea were strongly blunted when apneas were made in sleep. Post-apnea changes were also blunted when rats did not awake from apnea. Chronic sleep apnea (15 days of apnea during REM sleep, 8 h/day, 13.8 ± 2 apneas/h, average duration 12 ± 0.7 s) reduced sleep time, increased awake arterial pressure from 111 ± 6 to 118 ± 5 mmHg (p < 0.05) and increased a marker for sympathetic activity. Chronic apnea failed to change spontaneous baroreceptor sensitivity.
Our results suggest that sleep blunts the diving-like response induced by apnea and that acute post-apnea changes depend on awakening. In addition, our data confirm that two weeks of apnea during REM causes sleep disruption and increases blood pressure and sympathetic activity.

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