A blunting of heart rate (HR) reduction during sleep has been reported to be associated with increased all-cause mortality. An increased incident of cardiovascular events has been observed in patients with insomnia but the relationship between nighttime HR and insomnia remains unclear. Here we investigated the HR patterns during the sleep onset period and its association with the length of sleep onset latency (SOL). Nineteen sleep-onset insomniacs (SOI) and 14 good sleepers had their sleep analyzed. Linear regression and nonlinear Hilbert-Huang transform (HHT) of the HR slope were performed in order to analyze HR dynamics during the sleep onset period. A significant depression in HR fluctuation was identified among the SOI group during the sleep onset period when linear regression and HHT analysis were applied. The magnitude of the HR reduction was associated with both polysomnography-defined and subjective SOL; moreover, we found that the linear regression and HHT slopes of the HR showed great sensitivity with respect to sleep quality. Our findings indicate that HR dynamics during the sleep onset period are sensitive to sleep initiation difficulty and respond to the SOL, which indicates that the presence of autonomic dysfunction would seem to affect the progress of falling asleep.
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