Sleep and circadian influences on cardiac autonomic nervous system activity

Am J Physiol. 1997 Oct;273(4):H1761-8. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.1997.273.4.H1761.


To assess the separate contributions of the sleep and circadian systems to changes in cardiac autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity, 12 supine subjects participated in two 26-h constant routines, which were counterbalanced and separated by 1 wk. One routine did not permit sleep, whereas the second allowed the subjects to sleep during their normal sleep phase. Parasympathetic nervous system activity was assessed with respiratory sinus arrhythmia as measured from the spectral analysis of cardiac beat-to-beat intervals. Sympathetic nervous system activity was primarily assessed with the preejection period as estimated from impedance cardiography, although the 0.1-Hz peak from the spectral analysis of cardiac beat-to-beat intervals, the amplitude of the T wave in the electrocardiogram, and heart rate were also measured. Respiratory sinus arrhythymia showed a 24-h rhythm independent of sleep, whereas preejection period only showed a 24-h rhythm if sleep occurred. Thus the findings indicate that parasympathetic nervous system activity is mostly influenced by the circadian system, whereas sympathetic nervous system activity is mostly influenced by the sleep system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arrhythmia, Sinus / physiopathology
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Cardiography, Impedance
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Electrocardiography
  • Heart / physiology
  • Heart Conduction System / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Respiration / physiology
  • Sleep / physiology*