Autonomic control of the cardiovascular system during sleep in normal subjects

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Jun;87(2):174-81. doi: 10.1007/s00421-002-0597-1. Epub 2002 Apr 26.


The autonomic control of heart rate and blood pressure during sleep is controversial: although it has been reported that vagal activity is more often lower in rapid eye movement sleep (REM) than in other stages of sleep (non-REM, NREM), the opposite has also been described. Initially, it was reported that baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) increases during sleep (REM and NREM), but in later studies, this was only partially confirmed. We therefore studied autonomic control of the cardiovascular (CV) system during sleep in 12 normal adults. The spectral components of the heart rate R-R interval, blood pressure (BP), and BRS were computed at low (LF) and actual breathing frequency (high frequency, HF). Analysis of sleep stage and a cycle-by-cycle stage II analysis were performed. CV variability is affected largely by sleep-stage and sleep-cycle organisation: NREM and the last cycle exhibit the greatest vagal activity and the lowest sympathetic activity. BRS estimation for both the LF and HF bands confirmed previous results obtained by pharmacological and spontaneous slope methods: BRS is greater during sleep than during nocturnal wake periods, and further increased in REM. BRS is frequency dependent: in NREM, the higher value of HF BRS compared to LF BRS favours the HF control of BP variability, whereas higher BRS HF and LF components contribute to the strongest control in REM. BRS variability exhibits no significant pattern during the night. Our results suggest that both sleep-cycle organisation and BRS estimation in the LF and HF bands should be considered in sleep studies of autonomic CV control.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Baroreflex / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Cardiovascular System
  • Electrocardiography
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Heart / innervation*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Periodicity
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Sleep Stages / physiology*