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.