To investigate the nonlinear properties of respiratory movement during different sleep stages, we applied an algorithm proposed by Grassberger and Procaccia to calculate the correlation dimension in rapid eye movement and non-rapid eye movement sleep. We also tested for nonlinearity in respiratory movement by comparing the correlation dimension for the original data with that for surrogate data. The study population included eight healthy volunteers. We recorded respiratory movement and the sleep electroencephalogram for 8 h. The correlation dimension for respiratory movement was 3.28+/-0.19 (mean +/- SD) during rapid eye movement sleep, 2.31+/-0.21 during light sleep (stage I) and 1.64+/-0.25 during deep slow-wave sleep (stage IV). Thus, the correlation dimension differed significantly by sleep stage (p < 0.001): it was least during stage IV sleep and greatest during REM. The correlation dimension for the original data also differed from that for surrogate data, confirming nonlinearity in original data. The results suggest that the nonlinear dynamics of respiratory movement in sleep changes with sleep stage, presumably due to the information processing by the cerebral cortex. The increased correlation dimension for respiratory movement in REM sleep may be related to increased cortical information processing associated with dreaming.