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Recent studies suggest that exposure to repetitive episodes of hypoxia and transient arousal can lead to increased risk for cardiovascular disease in patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS). To obtain an improved understanding of and to quantitatively characterize the autonomic effects of arousal from sleep, a time-varying closed-loop model was used to determine the interrelationships among respiration, heart rate and blood pressure in 8 normal adults. A recursive least squares algorithm was used in combination with the Laguerre expansion technique to estimate the time-varying impulse responses of the 4 model components. We found that during arousal: 1) respiratory-cardiac coupling gain increases in nonrapid-eye movement (NREM) but not in REM sleep; 2) in both NREM and REM sleep, baroreflex gain shows an initial increase, but this is followed by a more sustained decrease below pre-arousal baseline levels, allowing sympathetic tone to be elevated over a relatively long duration; 3) the gains of other model components show increases with arousal that are consistent with the increased sympathetic modulation of systemic vascular resistance and contractility of the heart. These findings establish a normative database against which further measurements of cardiovascular arousal responses in OSAS may be compared.