Published:  2003-12-01

Cardiac Autonomic Activity During Human Sleep: Analysis of Sleep Stages and Sleep Cycles

Authors:  Alexander P.J. van Eekelen, Michel Varkevisser, Gerard A. Kerkhof


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In this study characteristics of cardiac functioning were investigated in nine subjects during their nocturnal sleep. The pre-ejection period and the high frequency component of heart rate variability were used as indices of cardiac sympathetic and parasympathetic activity of the autonomic nervous system respectively. Heart rate and the autonomic indices were assessed across physiological determined sleep stages and consecutive temporal sleep cycles. Repeated measures ANOVA analyses indicated a significant pattern of heart rate as a function of sleep stages, which was mirrored by parasympathetic activity. Further, a significant decrease of heart rate as a function of sleep cycles was mirrored by an increase of sympathetic activity. Moreover, non-REM/REM differences revealed a dominant role of parasympathetic activity during sleep stages as well as sleep cycles. These findings demonstrate that sympathetic activity is influenced by time asleep, whereas parasympathetic activity is influenced by the depth of sleep.