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Eur Respir J. 1994 Nov;7(11):2011-5.

Nitrazepam in patients with sleep apnoea: a double-blind placebo-controlled study.

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Dept of Otorhinolaryngology, Frölunda Specialist Hospital, Sweden.


We wanted to assess whether benzodiazepines worsen sleep apnoea, since their use in such patients has been controversial. Fourteen male patients with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnoea were investigated in a placebo-controlled, double-blind study evaluating the influence of nitrazepam (NIT) on apnoea frequency and severity. Each patient was given oral nitrazepam 5 or 10 mg, or corresponding placebo, in a randomized order on three separate nights. Wash-out time was one week. A complete sleep study was undertaken at each study night. Eleven patients completed the study. Although there were individuals with marked variability in apnoea index between the three study nights, there was no significant change in apnoea index or minimum arterial oxygen saturation with any of the two nitrazepam dosages studied. Only 3 out of 11 patients had a higher apnoea index after both nitrazepam doses compared to placebo, and in these patients the increase in sleep-disordered breathing was of marginal clinical significance. Nitrazepam caused a modest increase in total sleep time and a decrease in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These results demonstrate that nitrazepam does not worsen sleep apnoea in patients with mild to moderate sleep apnoea. The previously reported sleep apnoea promoting effects of benzodiazepines may be restricted to a small subgroup of patients with sleep-disordered breathing.

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