- heart rate variability
- sleep quality
- periodic limb movements
Normal sleep is associated with typical physiological changes in both the central and autonomic nervous systems. In particular, nocturnal blood pressure dipping has emerged as a strong marker of normal sleep physiology, whereas the absence of dipping or reverse dipping has been associated with cardiovascular risk. However, nocturnal blood pressure is not measured commonly in clinical practice. Heart rate (HR) dipping in sleep may be a similar important marker and is measured routinely in at-home and in-laboratory sleep testing.
We performed a retrospective cross-sectional analysis of diagnostic polysomnography in a clinically heterogeneous cohort of n=1047 adults without sleep apnea.
We found that almost half of the cohort showed an increased HR in stable nonrapid eye movement sleep (NREM) compared to wake, while only 13.5% showed a reduced NREM HR of at least 10% relative to wake. The strongest correlates of HR dipping were younger age and male sex, whereas the periodic limb movement index (PLMI), sleep quality, and Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) scores were not correlated with HR dipping. PLMI was however significantly correlated with metrics of impaired HR variability (HRV): increased low-frequency power and reduced high-frequency power. HRV metrics were unrelated to sleep quality or the ESS value. Following the work of Vgontzas et al, we also analyzed the sub-cohort with insomnia symptoms and short objective sleep duration. Interestingly, the sleep–wake stage-specific HR values depended upon insomnia symptoms more than sleep duration.
While our work demonstrates heterogeneity in cardiac metrics (HR and HRV), the population analysis suggests that pathological signatures of HR (nondipping and elevation) are common even in this cohort selected for the absence of sleep apnea. Future prospective work in clinical populations will further inform risk stratification and set the stage for testing interventions.