Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC San Diego

UC San Diego Previously Published Works bannerUC San Diego

Improvements in sleep‐disordered breathing during acclimatization to 3800 m and the impact on cognitive function


Sojourners to high altitude often experience poor sleep quality due to sleep-disordered breathing. Additionally, multiple aspects of cognitive function are impaired at high altitude. However, the impact of acclimatization on sleep-disordered breathing and whether poor sleep is a major contributor to cognitive impairments at high altitude remains uncertain. We conducted nocturnal actigraphy and polygraphy, as well as daytime cognitive function tests, in 15 participants (33% women) at sea level and over 3 days of partial acclimatization to high altitude (3800 m). Our goal was to determine if sleep-disordered breathing improved over time and if sleep-disordered breathing was associated with cognitive function. The apnea-hypopnea index and oxygen desaturation index increased on night 1 (adj. p = 0.026 and adj. p = 0.026, respectively), but both improved over the subsequent 2 nights. These measures were matched by poorer self-reported sleep quality on the Stanford Sleepiness Scale and PROMIS questionnaires following 1 night at high altitude (adj. p = 0.027 and adj. p = 0.022, respectively). The reaction time on the psychomotor vigilance task was slower at high altitude and did not improve (SL: 199 ± 27, ALT1: 224 ± 33, ALT2: 216 ± 41, ALT3: 212 ± 27 ms). The reaction times on the balloon analog risk task decreased at high altitude (SL: 474 ± 235, ALT1: 375 ± 159, ALT2: 291 ± 102, ALT3: 267 ± 90 ms), perhaps indicating increased risk-taking behavior. Finally, multiple cognitive function measures were associated with sleep-disordered breathing and measures of subjective sleep quality, rather than low daytime arterial oxygen saturation. These data indicate that sleep-disordered breathing at moderately high altitude improves with partial acclimatization and that some aspects of cognitive performance in unacclimatized sojourners may be impacted by poor sleep rather than hypoxemia alone.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View