Measuring Heart Rate Easier for Diagnosing Sleep Disorders

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Heart and sleep disorders

Researchers may have found an easier way for diagnosing sleep disorders. Standard sleep studies are involved, necessitating an overnight stay at a sleep center or hospital, while wearing electrodes on the chest and head. During a sleep study, monitors record a variety of bodily functions to help diagnose sleep disorders.

Scientists from Israel and Germany have discovered that simply measuring and recording heart rate -then analyzing the data as it relates to breathing and sleep patterns- might be an easier way to diagnose sleep disorders

Synchronization between heart rate and breathing occurs during certain stages of sleep. Measuring heart rate and breathing can yield important information about sleep duration and quality. During inhalation, the heart beat speeds up. Heart rate slows with exhalation. During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, heart rate and breathing become more variable, as opposed to deep, steady sleep with regular breathing.


The study included data from 295 people from the European project SIESTA, spanning seven countries. Nearly half have sleep disorders. Study participants underwent normal sleep studies, including electrodes that monitor heart rate, brain waves, eye movement, and muscle activity. Next, the researchers analyzed heart rate only in 150 subjects, known to have sleep disorders. Using their own mathematical model, measuring heart rate and breathing synchronicity, yielded the same results found in the traditional sleep studies. They found that heart rate and breathing are not synchronous during REM sleep, but that heart rate and breathing synchronizes during light and deep sleep.

The researchers plan to continue their studies. They hope that easier diagnosis of sleep disorders will help in the diagnosis of cardiac disease, and treatment of heart failure. Monitoring heart rate and respirations to determine the presence of sleep disorders might also help athletes with optimal training.

Sleep disorders can lead to serious health complications. Making sleep disorders easier to diagnose could reduce traffic fatalities that occur from lack of sleep, heart attacks, obesity, depression and stroke.