Leptin is a peptide hormone produced mainly in white adipose tissue. It is known to regulate energy homeostasis, inflammation, metabolism, and sympathetic nerve activity. Increasing evidence suggests it has a role in ventilatory function and upper airway obstruction. Leptin levels correlate positively with measurements of adiposity and can potentially provide important insights into the pathophysiology of diseases associated with obesity. Obesity is a strong risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, a disease characterized by periodic upper airway occlusion during sleep. The neuromuscular activity that maintains upper airway patency during sleep and the anatomy of upper airway are key factors involved in its pathogenesis. Experimental studies using animal models of a low leptin state such as leptin deficiency have shown that leptin regulates sleep architecture, upper airway patency, ventilatory function, and hypercapnic ventilatory response. However, findings from human studies do not consistently support the data from the animal models. The effect of leptin on the pathophysiology of obstructive sleep apnea is being investigated, but the results of studies have been confounded by leptin's diurnal variation and the short-term effects of feeding, adiposity, age, and sex. Improved study design and methods of assessing functional leptin levels, specifically their central versus peripheral effects, will improve understanding of the role of leptin in sleep apnea.