Pulse transit time (PTT) is the time taken for the arterial pulse pressure wave to travel from the aortic valve to a peripheral site. For convenience, it is usually measured from the R wave on the electrocardiogram to the pulse wave arrival at the finger. Pulse transit time is inversely proportional to blood pressure, and the falls in blood pressure which occur with inspiration (pulsus paradoxus) correspond to rises (lengthening) in pulse transit time. In awake normal subjects, the size of these inspiratory rises in pulse transit time correlate well with the degree of inspiratory effort. The aim of this study was to investigate whether inspiratory rises in pulse transit time could provide a quantitative measure of inspiratory effort in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea. Eight patients with obstructive sleep apnoea, attending the laboratory for institution of nasal continuous positive airway pressure, took part in the study. Once asleep, airway pressure was varied between optimal treatment level and minimum pressure, to produce a range of inspiratory efforts whilst continuous recordings of oesophageal pressure and pulse transit time were made. There was an excellent correlation between the size of the swings in oesophageal pressure and the size of the swings in pulse transit time (mean r = 0.94). Pulse transit time may, therefore, provide a clinically useful noninvasive and quantitative measure of inspiratory effort in patients with sleep-related breathing disorders.