Objective: Autonomic imbalance is considered a psychopathological mechanism underlying major depressive disorder (MDD). Heart rate variability (HRV) is an index for autonomic activation. Poor sleep quality is common among patients with MDD. HRV biofeedback (BF) has been used for regulating autonomic balance among patients with physical illness and mental disorders. The purpose of present study was to examine the effects of HRV-BF on depressive symptoms, sleep quality, pre-sleep arousal, and HRV indices, in patients with MDD and insomnia.
Methods: In this case-controlled study, patients with MDD and Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) score higher than 6 were recruited. The HRV-BF group received weekly 60-minute protocol for 6 weeks, and the control group who have matched the age and sex received medical care only. All participants were assessed on Beck Depression Inventory-II, Back Anxiety Inventory, PSQI, and Pre-Sleep Arousal Scale. Breathing rates and electrocardiography were also performed under resting state at pre-testing, and post-testing conditions and for the HRV-BF group, also at 1-month follow-up.
Results: In the HRV-BF group, symptoms of depression and anxiety, sleep quality, and pre-sleep arousal were significantly improved, and increased HRV indices, compared with the control group. Moreover, in the HRV-BF group, significantly improved symptoms of depression and anxiety, decreased breathing rates, and increased HRV indices were detected at post-testing and at 1-month follow-up, compared with pre-testing values.
Conclusion: This study confirmed that HRV-BF is a useful psychosocial intervention for improving autonomic balance, baroreflex, and symptoms of depression and insomnia in MDD patients.
Keywords: Heart rate variability biofeedback; Insomnia; Major depressive disorder.