Sleep Deprivation Deteriorates Heart Rate Variability and Photoplethysmography

Front Neurosci. 2021 Apr 8:15:642548. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2021.642548. eCollection 2021.


Introduction: Sleep deprivation has deleterious effects on cardiovascular health. Using wearable health trackers, non-invasive physiological signals, such as heart rate variability (HRV), photoplethysmography (PPG), and baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) can be analyzed for detection of the effects of partial sleep deprivation on cardiovascular responses.

Methods: Fifteen participants underwent 1 week of baseline recording (BSL, usual day activity and sleep) followed by 3 days with 3 h of sleep per night (SDP), followed by 1 week of recovery with sleep ad lib (RCV). HRV was recorded using an orthostatic test every morning [root mean square of the successive differences (RMSSD), power in the low-frequency (LF) and high-frequency (HF) bands, and normalized power nLF and nHF were computed]; PPG and polysomnography (PSG) were recorded overnight. Continuous blood pressure and psychomotor vigilance task were also recorded. A questionnaire of subjective fatigue, sleepiness, and mood states was filled regularly.

Results: RMSSD and HF decreased while nLF increased during SDP, indicating a decrease in parasympathetic activity and a potential increase in sympathetic activity. PPG parameters indicated a decrease in amplitude and duration of the waveforms of the systolic and diastolic periods, which is compatible with increases in sympathetic activity and vascular tone. PSG showed a rebound of sleep duration, efficiency, and deep sleep in RCV compared to BSL. BRS remained unchanged while vigilance decreased during SDP. Questionnaires showed an increased subjective fatigue and sleepiness during SDP.

Conclusion: HRV and PPG are two markers easily measured with wearable devices and modified by partial sleep deprivation, contradictory to BRS. Both markers showed a decrease in parasympathetic activity, known as detrimental to cardiovascular health.

Keywords: autonomic (vegetative) nervous system; heart rate variability; photoplethysmography; sleep; sleep deprivation.