Altered heart rate variability during sleep in mild cognitive impairment

Shawn D. X. Kong*, Camilla M. Hoyos, Craig L. Phillips, Andrew C. McKinnon, Pinghsiu Lin, Shantel L. Duffy, Loren Mowszowski, Haley M. Lamonica, Ronald R. Grunstein, Sharon L. Naismith, Christopher J. Gordon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Study Objectives: Cardiovascular autonomic dysfunction, as measured by short-term diurnal heart rate variability (HRV), has been reported in older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). However, it is unclear whether this impairment also exists during sleep in this group. We, therefore, compared overnight HRV during sleep in older adults with MCI and those with subjective cognitive impairment (SCI). Methods: Older adults (n = 210) underwent overnight polysomnography. Eligible participants were characterized as multi-domain MCI or SCI. The multi-domain MCI group was comprised of amnestic and non-amnestic subtypes. Power spectral analysis of HRV was conducted on the overnight electrocardiogram during non-rapid eye movement (NREM), rapid eye movement (REM), N1, N2, N3 sleep stages, and wake periods. High-frequency HRV (HF-HRV) was employed as the primary measure to estimate parasympathetic function. Results: The MCI group showed reduced HF-HRV during NREM sleep (p = 0.018), but not during wake or REM sleep (p > 0.05) compared to the SCI group. Participants with aMCI compared to SCI had the most pronounced reduction in HF-HRV across all NREM sleep stages - N1, N2, and N3, but not during wake or REM sleep. The naMCI sub-group did not show any significant differences in HF-HRV during any sleep stage compared to SCI. Conclusions: Our study showed that amnestic MCI participants had greater reductions in HF-HRV during NREM sleep, relative to those with SCI, suggesting potential vulnerability to sleep-related parasympathetic dysfunction. HF-HRV, especially during NREM sleep, may be an early biomarker for dementia detection.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberzsaa232
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • aging
  • dementia
  • heart rate variability
  • mild cognitive impairment
  • sleep


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