Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep was discovered nearly 60 years ago. This stage of sleep accounts for approximately a quarter of total sleep time in healthy adults, and it is mostly concentrated in the second half of the sleep period. The majority of research on REM sleep has focused on neurocognition. More recently, however, there has been a growing interest in understanding whether obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) during the two main stages of sleep (REM and non-REM sleep) leads to different cardiometabolic and neurocognitive risk. In this review, we discuss the growing evidence indicating that OSA during REM sleep is a prevalent disorder that is independently associated with adverse cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurocognitive outcomes. From a therapeutic standpoint, we discuss limitations of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy given that 3 or 4 h of CPAP use from the beginning of the sleep period would leave 75% or 60% of obstructive events during REM sleep untreated. We also review potential pharmacologic approaches to treating OSA during REM sleep. Undoubtedly, further research is needed to establish best treatment strategies in order to effectively treat REM OSA. Moreover, it is critical to understand whether treatment of REM OSA will translate into better patient outcomes.
- Rapid eye movement