Many patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) do not complain of excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), possibly due to increased sympathetic nervous activity (SNA) and accompanying heightened alertness. We hypothesized that in patients with OSA, those without subjective EDS (Epworth Sleepiness Scale, ESS score < 11) would have higher very low frequency (VLF) heart rate variability (HRV) during sleep, reflecting greater sympathetic heart rate modulation than patients with an ESS score ≥ 11.
Patients with severe OSA (AHI ≥ 30: 26 with and 65 without heart failure) were divided into those with and without EDS. Heart rate (HR) signals were acquired in stage 2 sleep during periods of recurrent apneas and hypopneas and submitted to coarse graining spectral analysis, which extracts harmonic, neurally mediated contributions to HRV from total spectral power. Because the apnea-hyperpnea cycle entrains muscle SNA at VLF (0 to 0.04 Hz), VLF power was our principal between-group comparison.
Subjects without EDS had higher harmonic VLF power (944 ± 839 vs 447 ± 461 msec2, p = 0.003) than those with EDS, irrespective of the presence or absence of heart failure (1218 ± 944 vs 426 ± 299 msec2, p = 0.043, and 1029 ± 873 vs 503 ± 533 msec2, p = 0.003, respectively). ESS scores correlated inversely with VLF power in all (r = -0.294, p = 0.005) and in heart failure subjects (r = -0.468, p = 0.016).
Patients with severe OSA but without EDS have higher VLF-HRV than those with EDS. This finding suggests that patients with severe OSA but without EDS have greater sympathetic modulation of HRV than those with EDS that may reflect elevated adrenergically mediated alertness.
Taranto Montemurro L; Floras JS; Picton P; Kasai T; Alshaer H; Gabriel JM; Bradley TD. Relationship of heart rate variability to sleepiness in patients with obstructive sleep apnea with and without heart failure. J Clin Sleep Med 2014;10(3):271-276.