Pressure controlled ventilation, and pressure support for spontaneous breathing are often used in intensive care because coordination of the ventilator with patient efforts can improve comfort and possibly reduce sedation. However we report a series of 10 patients whose efforts did not synchronise with pressure controlled ventilation. This was incorrectly diagnosed as inadequate sedation, and treated with increased sedation or muscle paralysis. Better recognition of this condition showed that slow respiratory rates and increased abdominal muscle action during expiration can affect pressure-controlled ventilation and pressure assisted breathing. If the condition is not recognised, treatment for poor synchronisation may delay weaning or be inappropriate.