Published:  2004-01-01

Circadian Variation in Cardiac Autonomic Activity: Reactivity Measurements to Different Types of Stressors

Authors:  Alexander P. J. van Eekelen, Jan H. Houtveen, Gerard A. Kerkhof

Tags:  Circadian rhythmicity, Constant routine, Heart rate, Parasympathetic activity, Stress reactivity, Sympathetic activity

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The role of endogenous circadian rhythmicity in autonomic cardiac reactivity to different stressors was investigated. A constant routine protocol was used with repeated exposure to a dual task and a cold pressor test. The 29 subjects were randomly divided into two groups in order to manipulate prior wakefulness. Group 1 started at 09:00 h immediately after a monitored sleep period, whereas group 2 started 12 h later. Measures of interbeat intervals (IBI), respiratory sinus arrythmia (RSA, a measure of parasympathetic activity), pre-ejection period (PEP, a measure of sympathetic activity), as well as core body temperature (CBT) were recorded continuously. Multilevel regression analyses (across-subjects) revealed significant (mainly 24 h) sinusoidal circadian variation in the response to both stressors for IBI and RSA, but not for PEP. Individual 24 + 12 h cosine fits demonstrated a relatively large interindividual variation of the phases of the IBI and RSA rhythms, as compared to that of the CBT rhythm. Sinusoidal by group interactions were found for IBI and PEP, but not for RSA. These findings were interpreted as an indication for endogenous circadian and exogenous parasympathetic (vagal) modulation of cardiac reactivity, while sympathetic reactivity is relatively unaffected by the endogenous circadian drive and mainly influenced by exogenous factors.