Effects of sleep and sleep deficiency on autonomic function in humans

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The autonomic system plays an important role in regulating blood pressure (BP). BP is elevated at night when individuals remain awake and continues to be elevated during either the night or the day if wakefulness persists. There is a close relationship between the high frequency (HF) of the variability of the RR interval (RRI), an index of parasympathetic predominance, and delta power during slow-wave sleep bouts. In addition, there is an HF rebound once sleep is permitted following sleep deprivation. Furthermore, this is the case for acute total sleep deprivation, as well as for models of chronic sleep restriction. Evidence indicates that sleep is important for autonomic homeostasis. It has long been recognized that physiological stress induces sympathetic activation. However, the simple fact that humans can voluntarily, and sometimes even with great pleasure, deprive themselves of sleep, has led us to overlook the role that deficient sleep plays as a physiological stressor. Physiological and epidemiological data have shown that short sleep is a risk factor for a broad range of morbidity and all-cause mortality. Understanding the role sleep plays in autonomic regulation can open new opportunities for the development of sleep interventions to improve cardiovascular health.

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