Daytime sleepiness and its relationships to fatigue and autonomic dysfunction in adults with spinal cord injury

A. Craig*, D. Rodrigues, Y. Tran, Rebecca Guest, J. Middleton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To determine the extent of daytime sleepiness in adults with spinal cord injury (SCI) and investigate the contribution of fatigue and autonomic function to sleepiness status. Methods: Participants included 45 adults with SCI attending outpatient services or living in the community and 44 able-bodied controls. The Oxford Sleep Resistance Test (OSLER) was used to assess daytime sleepiness, while eye blink rate duration (electrooculography) and the Iowa Fatigue Scale assessed fatigue. Heart rate variability (HRV) was used to assess autonomic function. Survival analysis (Kaplan Meier) was used to estimate the rate of loss in participation in the OSLER task, as a measure of daytime sleepiness. Repeated measures ANOVA was used to determine HRV differences between groups. Regression analysis was used to establish factors that contributed to daytime sleepiness. Results: Participants with high lesions (“T3 and above”) had significantly increased daytime sleepiness. OSLER results revealed only 33% of those with high lesions remained awake during the task. Those with high lesions also had significantly reduced sympathetic activity while no differences in parasympathetic activity were found between groups. Lesion completeness had no effect. Standardized variation in heart rate, slow eye blinks, low frequency HRV and self-reported fatigue contributed to daytime sleepiness. Conclusion: Neurological lesions at “T3 or above” have an increased risk of daytime sleepiness, impacting on independence in daily functional tasks and work performance. Autonomic imbalance alters cardiovascular control, affecting health and wellbeing. The interaction of these factors requires further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-98
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Psychosomatic Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2018


  • Anxiety
  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Fatigue
  • Heart rate variability
  • Sleepiness
  • Spinal cord injury

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