Medical & Biological Engineering & Computing

, Volume 37, Issue 6, pp 760–769 | Cite as

Evaluation of frequency and time-frequency spectral analysis of heart rate variability as a diagnostic marker of the sleep apnoea syndrome

  • M. F. Hilton
  • R. A. Bates
  • K. R. Godfrey
  • M. J. Chappell
  • R. M. Cayton


The sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome (SAHS) elicits a unique heart rate rhythm that may provide the basis for an effective screening tool. The study uses the receiver operator characteristic (ROC) to assess the diagnostic potential of spectral analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) using two methods, the discrete Fourier transform (DFT) and the discrete harmonic wavelet transform (DHWT). These two methods are compared over different sleep stages and spectral frequency bands. The HRV results are subsequently compared with those of the current screening method of oximetry. For both the DFT and the DHWT, the most diagnostically accurate frequency range for HRV spectral power calculations is found to be 0.019–0.036 Hz (denoted by AB2). Using AB2, 15 min sections of non-REM sleep data in 40 subjects produce ROC areas, for the DFT, DHWT and oximetry, of 0.94, 0.97 and 0.67, respectively. In REM sleep, ROC areas are 0.78, 0.79 and 0.71, respectively. In non-REM sleep, spectral analysis of HRV appears to be a significantly better indicator of the SAHS than the current screening method of oximetry, and, in REM sleep, it is comparable with oximetry. The advantage of the DHWT over the DFT is that it produces a greater time resolution and is computationally more efficient. The DHWT does not require the precondition of stationarity or interpolation of raw HRV data.


Apnoea Sleep Heart rate variability Spectral analysis Oximetry Receiver operator characteristic 

List of symbols


apnoea band 1 (0.019–0.071 Hz)


apnoea band 2 (0.019–0.036 Hz)


apnoea/hypopnoea index, h−1


high-frequency band (0.15–0.4 Hz)


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Copyright information

© IFMBE 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. F. Hilton
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • R. A. Bates
    • 4
  • K. R. Godfrey
    • 2
  • M. J. Chappell
    • 2
  • R. M. Cayton
    • 3
  1. 1.Circadian, Neuroendocrine & Sleep Disorders Section Brigham & Women's HospitalHarvard Medical SchoolBostonMassachusettsUSA
  2. 2.School of EngineeringUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK
  3. 3.Department of Respiratory PhysiologyBirmingham Heartlands HospitalBirminghamUK
  4. 4.Department of StatisticsUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK

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