Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with cardiovascular events. In addition, autonomic activity determined from the levels of the heart rate variability (HRV), plasma catecholamine, and intracellular magnesium (Mg) are important in the pathophysiology of cardiovascular events. This study therefore aimed to determine the effects of chronic sleep deprivation on autonomic activity by examining the HRV, plasma catecholamine, and intracellular magnesium levels. Thirty (30) healthy male college students ranging in age from 20 to 24 years of age (average 22 +/- 1 years; mean +/- SD) with no coronary risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia or a family history of premature coronary artery disease (CAD) were included in the study. Over a 4-week period, the volunteers' plasma levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and erythrocyte-Mg were measured. The study was made during the 4 weeks before and immediately after college finals exams. HRV, obtained from 24-hour ambulatory ECG monitoring, included time and frequency domain indices. The HRV indices and erythrocyte-Mg decreased while norepinephrine increased during chronic sleep deprivation. It is concluded that chronic sleep deprivation causes an autonomic imbalance and decreases intracellular Mg, which could be associated with chronic sleep deprivation-induced cardiovascular events.