Baroreflex Buffering of Sympathetic Activation during Sleep: Evidence from Autonomic Assessment of Sleep Macroarchitecture and Microarchitecture

Ferdinando Iellamo, Fabio Placidi, Maria Grazia Marciani, Andrea Romigi, Mario Tombini, Stefano Aquilani, Michele Massaro, Alberto Galante, Jacopo M. Legramante

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined the effects of sleep microstructure, ie, the cyclic alternating pattern (CAP), on heart rate (HR)- and blood pressure (BP)-regulating mechanisms and on baroreflex control of HR in healthy humans and tested the hypothesis that sympathetic activation occurring in CAP epochs during non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep periods is buffered by the arterial baroreflex. Ten healthy males underwent polysomnography and simultaneous recording of BP, ECG, and respiration. Baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) was calculated by the sequences method. Autoregressive power spectral analysis was used to investigate R-R interval (RRI) and BP variabilities. During overall non-REM sleep, BP decreased and RRI increased in comparison to wakefulness, with concomitant decreases in low-frequency RRI and BP oscillations and increases in high-frequency RRI oscillations, These changes were reversed during REM to wakefulness levels, with the exception of RRI. During CAP, BP increased significantly in comparison to non-CAP and did not differ from REM and wakefulness, The low-frequency component of BP variability was significantly higher during CAP than non-CAP. RRI and its low-frequency spectral component did not differ between CAP and non-CAP. BRS significantly increased during CAP in comparison to non-CAP. BRS was not different during CAP and REM and was greater during both in comparison with the awake state. Even during sleep stages, like non-REM sleep, characterized by an overall vagal predominance, phases of sustained sympathetic activation do occur that resemble that occurring during REM. Throughout the overnight sleep period, the arterial baroreflex acts to buffer surges of sympathetic activation by means of rapid changes in cardiac vagal circuits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)814-819
Number of pages6
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2004


  • Baroreflex
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Sympathetic nervous system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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