The autonomic nervous system links the brain and the heart. Efferent links in the neural control of the heart consist of sympathetic and parasympathetic (vagal) fibers innervating the sinus node. Because sympathetic and vagal firing alter spontaneous sinus node depolarization, cardiac rate and rhythm convey information about autonomic influences on the heart. The easy availability of ECG rendered possible the assessment of sinus rhythm as an index of autonomic outflow. The frequency-domain approach uses non-invasive recordings and appears to provide a quantitative evaluation of the autonomic modulation of cardiovascular function. Spectral profiles resulting from vagal or sympathetic blockades at the cardiac (or vascular) level might be used as references to unravel the mechanism of action of the drug under examination. A more comprehensive assessment will be obtained if spectral analysis is used as a complement to existing techniques applied for describing the neurohumoral status of patients (microneurographic recordings, norepinephrine spillover). This review also reports some pitfalls encountered in variability studies.