Comparing the cardiac autonomic activity profile of daytime naps and nighttime sleep

Lauren N. Whitehurst, Mohsen Naji, Sara C. Mednick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Heart rate variability (HRV) is a reliable technique to evaluate autonomic activity and shows marked changes across a night of sleep. Previous nighttime sleep findings report changes in HRV during non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM), which have been associated with cardiovascular health benefits. Daytime sleep, however, has been linked with both positive and negative cardiovascular outcomes. Yet, no studies have directly compared HRV profiles during an ecologically-valid daytime nap in healthy, well-rested adults to that of nighttime sleep. Using a within-subjects design, 32 people took a daytime nap and slept overnight in the lab at least one week apart; both sleep sessions had polysomnography, including electrocardiography (ECG), recorded. We measured inter-beat intervals (RR), total power (TP), low frequency power (LF;.04–.15 Hz), and high frequency power (HF;.15–.40 Hz) components of HRV during NREM and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Compared to the nap, we found longer RR intervals and decreased heart rate during the night for both Stage 2 and SWS and increased TP, LF and HF power during nighttime Stage 2 sleep only; however, no differences in the LFHF ratio or normalized HF power were found between the nap and the night. Also, no differences in REM sleep between the nap and night were detected. Similar relationships emerged when comparing the nap to one cycle of nighttime sleep. These findings suggest that longer daytime naps, with both SWS and REM, may provide similar cardiovascular benefits as nocturnal sleep. In light of the on-going debate surrounding the health benefits and/or risks associated with napping, these results suggest that longer daytime naps in young, healthy adults may support cardiac down-regulation similar to nighttime sleep. In addition, napping paradigms may serve as tools to explore sleep-related changes in autonomic activity in both healthy and at-risk populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-57
Number of pages6
JournalNeurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms
StatePublished - Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors


  • Autonomic
  • Cardiovascular
  • Health
  • Heart rate variability
  • Napping
  • sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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