Heart rate changes during sleep in response to experimental thermal (nociceptive) stimulations in healthy subjects

Gilles J. Lavigne, Marco Zucconi, Vincenzia Castronovo, Christiane Manzini, Fabrizio Veglia, Salvatore Smirne, Luigi Ferini-Strambi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: During wakefulness, nociceptive thermal stimulation can trigger a rapid and transient rise in heart rate (HR). During sleep, HR variations are different across sleep stages; HR is more variable in stage 2 and in REM than in stages 3 and 4. The aim of this study was to assess the HR response to experimental thermal stimulation during different sleep stages. Methods: Eight young subjects free of sleep and pain problems, underwent a night of polysomnographic recording during which experimental thermal stimulations were applied. During all sleep stages (St), a series of cold, warm/control and heat pain stimulations were applied over the shoulder skin by means of a water-driven system. Variation of HR interval was measured for 6 s before and for 6 s during the thermal stimulation. Results: In comparison to control warm stimulation, experimental nociceptive thermal stimulation induced a significant rise in HR during sleep; HR increased by 7% in St 2, 5.4% in St 3&4, and by 4.3% in REM sleep. Conclusion: The brief increase in cardiac activity with experimental nociceptive stimulation suggests that during sleep, the autonomic-cardiac nervous system remains reactive to external sensory inputs and is part of the physiological response to preserve body safety and sleep integrity in the face of potentially harmful stimulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)532-535
Number of pages4
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Autonomic response
  • Heart rate
  • Nociception
  • Pain
  • Quantitative sensory testing
  • Sleep
  • Thermal pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Physiology (medical)


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