STUDY OBJECTIVES: The objective assessment of insomnia has remained difficult. Multisensory devices collecting heart rate (HR) and motion are regarded as the future of ambulatory sleep monitoring. Unfortunately, reports on altered average HR or heart rate variability (HRV) during sleep in insomnia are equivocal. Here, we evaluated whether the objective quantification of insomnia improves by assessing state-related changes in cardiac measures.
METHODS: We recorded electrocardiography, posture, and actigraphy in 33 people without sleep complaints and 158 patients with mild to severe insomnia over four days in their home environment. At the microscale, we investigated whether HR changed with proximity to gross (body) and small (wrist) movements at nighttime. At the macroscale, we calculated day-night differences in HR and HRV measures. For both timescales, we tested whether outcome measures were related to insomnia diagnosis and severity.
RESULTS: At the microscale, an increase in HR was often detectable already 60 seconds prior to as well as following a nocturnal chest, but not wrist, movement. This increase was slightly steeper in insomnia and was associated with insomnia severity, but future EEG recordings are necessary to elucidate whether these changes occur prior to or simultaneously with PSG-indicators of wakefulness. At the macroscale, we found an attenuated cardiac response to sleep in insomnia: patients consistently showed smaller day-night differences in HR and HRV.
CONCLUSIONS: Incorporating state-related changes in cardiac features in the ambulatory monitoring of sleep might provide a more sensitive biomarker of insomnia than the use of cardiac activity averages or actigraphy alone.