Circadian rhythms and cardiovascular health

Sleep Med Rev. 2012 Apr;16(2):151-66. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2011.04.003. Epub 2011 Jun 8.


The functional organization of the cardiovascular system shows clear circadian rhythmicity. These and other circadian rhythms at all levels of organization are orchestrated by a central biological clock, the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus. Preservation of the normal circadian time structure from the level of the cardiomyocyte to the organ system appears to be essential for cardiovascular health and cardiovascular disease prevention. Myocardial ischemia, acute myocardial infarct, and sudden cardiac death are much greater in incidence than expected in the morning. Moreover, supraventricular and ventricular cardiac arrhythmias of various types show specific day-night patterns, with atrial arrhythmias--premature beats, tachycardias, atrial fibrillation, and flutter - generally being of higher frequency during the day than night--and ventricular fibrillation and ventricular premature beats more common, respectively, in the morning and during the daytime activity than sleep span. Furthermore, different circadian patterns of blood pressure are found in arterial hypertension, in relation to different cardiovascular morbidity and mortality risk. Such temporal patterns result from circadian periodicity in pathophysiological mechanisms that give rise to predictable-in-time differences in susceptibility-resistance to cyclic environmental stressors that trigger these clinical events. Circadian rhythms also may affect the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of cardiovascular and other medications. Knowledge of 24-h patterns in the risk of cardiac arrhythmias and cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality plus circadian rhythm-dependencies of underlying pathophysiologic mechanisms suggests the requirement for preventive and therapeutic interventions is not the same throughout the day and night, and should be tailored accordingly to improve outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Heart / physiology
  • Humans
  • Sleep / physiology