The relationship between spectral changes in heart rate variability and fatigue

Yvonne Tran*, Nirupama Wijesuriya, Mika Tarvainen, Pasi Karjalainen, Ashley Craig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)


Fatigue is a prevalent problem in the workplace and a common symptom of many diseases. However, its relationship with the autonomic nervous system, specifically with sympathetic arousal, needs clarification. The objective of this study was to determine the association between fatigue and heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is regarded as an indicator of the autonomic regulation activity of heart rate, specifically sympathetic and parasympathetic activity. Spectral changes in low-frequency (LF; 0.04-0.15 Hz) and high-frequency (HF; 0.15-0.4 Hz) components of HRV have been reported to be associated with distressing conditions such as hemorrhagic shock, acute myocardial infarction, elevated anxiety, and depressed mood. While HRV changes have been found in persons with chronic fatigue syndrome, its association with fatigue in healthy individuals still needs clarification. HRV was assessed in a total of 50 participants who were asked to perform a task until becoming fatigued. Low-frequency HRV activity increased, while indices of parasympathetic modulation such as RMSSD and pNN50 remained stable as participants experienced fatigue, suggesting that fatigue in healthy individuals may be associated with increased sympathetic arousal. In addition, employing multiple regression analyses, we could positively associate the change in LF/HF HRV ratio from baseline to fatigue with factors such as emotional stability, warmth and tension and negatively associate it with social boldness and self-reported levels of vigor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-151
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Psychophysiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Heart rate variability
  • Stress
  • Sympathetic activity


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