Summary In patients with heart failure, apnea type can shift overnight from mainly obstructive to mainly central in association with reductions in PCO2 and increases in periodic breathing cycle length, indicative of a fall in cardiac output. We hypothesized that the predominant apnea type could also vary from one night to another in association with alterations in PCO2 and cycle length. We studied 12 men with heart failure in whom the predominant apnea type changed from one night to the next over periods of at least 1 month, and two groups with either predominantly obstructive or central sleep apnea (OSA or CSA) in whom apnea type remained stable over time. In patients with unstable apnea type (n = 12, duration between sleep studies 9.0 ± 4.4 months), PCO2 was significantly lower (37.6 ± 1.6 mmHg versus 41.7 ± 1.9 mmHg, P < 0.01), and cycle length significantly longer (61.9 ± 3.4 s versus 51.0 ± 1.9 s, P < 0.001) during nights with predominantly central than nights with predominantly obstructive apnea. In contrast, in both the stable central (n = 8, duration between sleep studies 11.9 ± 5.3 months) and the stable obstructive (n = 8, duration between studies 6.9 ± 5.2 months) sleep apnea groups, neither PCO2 nor cycle length changed significantly between the baseline and follow-up sleep studies. We conclude that in some patients with heart failure, OSA and CSA are part of a spectrum of periodic breathing that can shift over time in association with alterations in PCO2, cycle length and probably cardiac function.