Cardiac variability and heart-rate increment as a marker of sleep fragmentation in patients with a sleep disorder: a preliminary study

Sleep. 2007 Jan;30(1):43-51. doi: 10.1093/sleep/30.1.43.


Study objectives: The ratio between the heart-rate increment to total power spectral density (%VLFI) has been introduced as a sensitive measure of sleep-related breathing disorders (SRBD). Since a complex interaction is present between sleep disorders and occurrence of arousals, we hypothesized that %VLFI and other indexes of heart-rate variability (HRV) measures reflect the degree of sleep fragmentation.

Methods: The high- and low-frequency peaks from spectral analysis (FFT) of R-R intervals, the HRV changes using wavelet transform (WT), the geometric and time domain HRV, and the %VLFI were measured in 336 sleep studies performed in patients with insomnia, SRBD and restless legs syndrome/periodic limb movement disorder (RLS/PLMD). The ability of HRV measures to assess sleep fragmentation was examined by correlation analysis and from the area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve.

Results: The ratio of low frequency to high frequency (LF/HF ratio) at the FFT and WT and the %VLFI were higher in patients with SRBD and RLS/PLMD, compared with patients with insomnia. These measures were related to the arousal (MA) index as well as to the apnea-hypopnea index, oxygen desaturations, and periodic leg movement index (p < .001). The presence of a sleep fragmentation defined as an MA index > 20 was well detected by the %VLFI (ROC area: 0.66 +/- 0.03) and the LF/HF ratio at WT (ROC area: 0.66 +/- 0.03).

Conclusion: The %VLFI and LF/HF ratio provide indirect measures of sleep fragmentation, suggesting that HRV measures during sleep assess more the associated sleep fragmentation than the presence of a specific sleep disorder.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Biomarkers
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Female
  • Fourier Analysis
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Polysomnography*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / physiopathology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / physiopathology
  • Sleep Stages / physiology
  • Wakefulness / physiology


  • Biomarkers