We determined whether alterations in heart rate dynamics during sleep in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) differed from controls and/or correlated with changes of sleepiness before and after a night in the sleep laboratory. We compared beat-to-beat RR intervals (RRI) during nocturnal sleep, sleep structure, and subjective scores on visual analog scale for sleepiness in 18 CFS patients with 19 healthy controls aged 25-55 after excluding subjects with sleep disorders. A short-term fractal scaling exponent (α1) of RRI dynamics, analyzed by the detrended fluctuation analysis (DFA) method, was assessed after stratifying patients into those who reported more or less sleepiness after the night's sleep (a.m. sleepier or a.m. less sleepy, respectively). Patients in the a.m. sleepier group showed significantly (p<0.05) higher fractal scaling index α1 during non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep (Stages 1, 2, and 3 sleep) than healthy controls, although standard polysomnographic measures did not differ between the groups. The fractal scaling index α1 during non-REM sleep was significantly (p<0.05) higher than that during awake periods after sleep onset for healthy controls and patients in the a.m. less sleepy group, but did not differ between sleep stages for patients in the a.m. sleepier group. For patients, changes in self-reported sleepiness before and after the night correlated positively with the fractal scaling index α1 during non-REM sleep (p<0.05). These results suggest that RRI dynamics or autonomic nervous system activity during non-REM sleep might be associated with disrupted sleep in patients with CFS.
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