Vandewalle G; Middleton B; Rajaratnam SM; Stone BM; Thorleifsdottir B;
Arendt J; Dijk DJ
Surrey Sleep Research Centre, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK.
Heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) undergo marked fluctuations over the 24-h day. Although controversial, this 24-h rhythm is thought to be driven by the sleep-wake/rest-activity cycle as well as by endogenous circadian rhythmicity. We quantified the endogenous circadian rhythm of HR and HRV and investigated whether this rhythm can be shifted by repeated melatonin administration while exposed to an altered photoperiod. Eight healthy males (age 24.4 +/- 4.4 years) participated in a double-blind cross-over design study. In both conditions, volunteers were scheduled to 16 h-8 h rest : wake and dark : light cycles for nine consecutive days preceded and followed by 29-h constant routines (CR) for assessment of endogenous circadian rhythmicity. Melatonin (1.5 mg) or placebo was administered at the beginning of the extended sleep opportunities. For all polysomnographically verified wakefulness periods of the CR, we calculated the high- (HF) and low- (LF) frequency bands of the power spectrum of the R-R interval, the standard deviation of the normal-to-normal (NN) intervals (SDNN) and the square root of the mean-squared difference of successive NN intervals (rMSSD). HR and HRV variables revealed robust endogenous circadian rhythms with fitted maxima, respectively, in the afternoon (16:36 hours) and in the early morning (between 05:00 and 06:59 hours). Melatonin treatment phase-advanced HR, HF, SDNN and rMSSD, and these shifts were significantly greater than after placebo treatment. We conclude that endogenous circadian rhythmicity influences autonomic control of HR and that the timing of these endogenous rhythms can be altered by extended sleep/rest episodes and associated changes in photoperiod as well as by melatonin treatment.