The aim of the present multiple cross-over study was to compare the effects of biphasic positive airway pressure (BIPAP) ventilation with synchronized intermittent mandatory ventilation combined with pressure support ventilation (S-IMV/PSV) in sedated and awake patients after coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery. Twenty-four patients with no evidence of preoperative respiratory dysfunction and an uncomplicated intraoperative course were investigated. The patients were randomly assigned to one of two groups starting with either BIPAP or S-IMV/PSV mode. Haemodynamic measurements and blood gas analyses were performed during sedation with 2.0 mg kg−1 h−1 propofol in the primary mode, after switching to the alternative ventilatory mode, and in the primary mode again. The same sequence of measurements was repeated in awake patients who had reached extubation criteria. In awake patients, PSV was performed instead of S-IMV. Statistical analysis of data was performed using non-parametric tests. Inspiratory peak pressure increased significantly during S-IMV/PSV in sedated patients in both groups. Other ventilatory parameters did not differ significantly between BIPAP and S-IMV/PSV in both groups. Similarly, haemodynamic parameters and blood-gas analyses did not vary with the ventilatory mode. Our results demonstrate that BIPAP ventilation has comparable effects on haemodynamics and pulmonary gas exchange compared with S-IMV/PSV and PSV when used for short-term ventilatory support in patients after cardiac surgery.