Fourteen self-reported insomniacs (SRI) and 14 good sleepers (GS) had their cardiac neuronal activity assessed by heart rate variability (HRV) under controlled respiration at a slow frequency rate of 0.1Hz, and a forced rate of 0.2Hz during daytime rest. Nighttime sleep was measured by polysomnography. The SRI showed depressed high frequency power of HRV compared to the GS. An increased total power of HRV was observed among the SRI during slow, paced breathing compared with spontaneous breathing and 0.2Hz. Sleep onset latency, number of awakenings, and awakening time during sleep were decreased and sleep efficiency was increased if SRI practiced slow, paced breathing exercises for 20min before going to sleep. Our results indicate that there is autonomic dysfunction among insomniacs, especially in relation to vagal activity; however, this decreased vagal activity can be facilitated by practicing slow, paced breathing, thereby improving sleep quality.
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