Previous studies have examined infant arousal responses to various arousal stimuli; however it is unclear whether the patterns of responses to different stimuli are comparable within subjects across early development. The aim of the study was to compare the effects of both respiratory and somatosensory stimulation on arousal processes in the same infants throughout the first 6 months of life. Ten healthy term infants were studied with daytime polysomnography at 2-4 weeks, 2-3 and 5-6 months. Infants were challenged with both hypoxia (15 O(2), balanced N(2)) and a pulsatile air-jet to the nostrils. Stimulus-induced sub-cortical activations (SCA) and cortical arousals (CA) were expressed as percentages of total arousals. Heart rate (HR) changes and electroencephalogram (EEG) desynchronization were also contrasted for the two stimuli. During active sleep (AS), there was no significant effect of stimulus type on proportions of CA at any of the ages studied. During quiet sleep (QS), hypoxia elicited higher CA proportions than the air-jet at 2-3 and 5-6 months (P <0.01). Overall, HR responses associated with SCA and CA and the duration of EEG desynchronization during CA were similar for both stimuli. Mild hypoxia and nasal air-jet stimulation produce qualitatively similar patterns of arousal responses during the first 6 months of life, supporting the concept of a final common neural pathway of cortical activation. Quantitatively, full CA from QS is more likely with hypoxia, in keeping with it being a life-threatening stimulus. This study supports the nasal air-jet as an appropriate stimulus for assessing developmental patterns of infant arousal process.