Diabetes mellitus is associated with a marked increase in the risk of coronary events but with an altered circadian distribution that demonstrates an absent morning peak and higher infarction rate during the evening hours. To elucidate the mechanism of this phenomenon, the circadian pattern of heart rate variability was evaluated in 22 type I diabetic patients with diabetic autonomic neuropathy in conjunction with circadian changes of fibrinolytic and hemostatic factors. The circadian pattern (6 A.M. to 10 P.M. vs 10 P.M. to 6 A.M.) of 3 indexes of parasympathetic tone was evaluated using 24-hour heart rate variability analysis. The high-frequency power (3.0 +/- 0.2 vs 3.3 +/- 0.2 ms2, p = 0.08) and the percentage of RR intervals with >50 ms variation (0.47 +/- 0.18 vs 0.69 +/- 0.33 ms, p = 0.52) demonstrated no significant circadian variation. The square root of mean squared differences of successive RR intervals showed a small but significant increase during nighttime (8.5 +/- 0.7 vs 9.7 +/- 1.1 ms, p = 0.02). Fibrinolytic activity was significantly lower at 8 A.M. than at 4 P.M. (166.4 +/- 12.5 to 200.2 +/- 9.3 mm2, p = 0.0003), but with a low amplitude. Plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 showed no circadian variation. Factor VII and fibrinogen demonstrated a significant reduction from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M., but both peak and nadir values were elevated. The von Willebrand factor was markedly elevated with no circadian variation. Thus, diabetic autonomic neuropathy is associated with a loss of both the nocturnal predominance of parasympathetic activity and a prothrombotic state that persists throughout the day. These abnormalities may attenuate the relative protection from coronary events during the afternoon and nighttime.