Heart rate variability (HRV) during sleep in normal subjects at high altitude shows a decrease in parasympathetic tone associated with an increase in the sympathetic one, which tends to be reversed with acclimatization. However, periodic breathing (PB) during sleep may influence this effect detected by HRV spectral analysis.
The aim of our study was to investigate HRV during sleep periodic breathing (PB) at high altitude in normal subjects at two different times of acclimatization, i.e., two different levels of hypoxemia.
Recordings of six healthy climbers (aged between 33 and 40 years), at sea level (SL) and at Everest North Base Camp (5180 m), during the first (BC1) and the tenth (BC2) overnight unattended polygraphy, were analyzed. PB was commonplace in all subjects at high altitude to a variable extent. At SL and at BC1 and BC2, HRV was evaluated overnight and separately during clear regular breathing (RB) and PB.
A mean overnight beat-by-beat series interval (RR) reduction at acute environmental hypoxic exposure that resumed to SL values after 10-day sojourn was observed. This reduction was mostly due to RR during RB, while during PB, RR values were not different from SL. Higher peaks of tidal volume were associated with higher HRV.
The present study shows that in healthy subjects, PB with central apneas increases the amplitude of RR oscillations, and these oscillations are tightly related to respiratory amplitude. Oxygenation does not influence this phenomenon. Therefore, oscillations in ventilation itself should be taken into account when investigating HRV.
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The authors would like to thank A. Da Pollenza (Ev-K2-CNR Project, Head of “K2-2004 50 years later” Italian Expedition to Everest and K2) on behalf of all members of the Expedition, and Ente Italiano per la Montagna for funding this study and for providing technical and logistical support. Supported also by the Italian National Research Council, order number ME.P01.014.009, is acknowledged.
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Insalaco, G., Salvaggio, A., Pomidori, L. et al. Heart rate variability during sleep at high altitude: effect of periodic breathing. Sleep Breath 20, 197–204 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11325-015-1205-z
- Periodic breathing
- High altitude
- Arterial oxygen saturation
- Heart rate variability