We evaluated cardiovascular autonomic control and arousability during sleep in infants with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) before and after 10 +/- 4 (mean +/- SD) days of treatment with nasal continuous positive airway pressure (nCPAP). Six OSA infants and 12 age-matched control infants were studied with polygraphic sleep studies at the age of 13 +/- 4 wk. During the study, 45 degrees head-up tilt tests were performed in slow-wave and rapid eye movement sleep. Blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) were continuously monitored. All OSA infants had decreased initial BP and HR responses, followed by hypotension in two and hypertension in two. OSA infants displayed higher arousal thresholds in response to the tilt in rapid eye movement sleep (P < 0.005) and higher baseline HR (P < 0.05) than controls. nCPAP treatment normalized BP and HR responses as well as arousal thresholds to tilting and stabilized HR levels. OSA in infants may be linked with cardiovascular autonomic control disturbances and decreased arousability during sleep. These defects are improved by control of OSA with nCPAP.