Objective: Measurements of the variability in heart rate are increasingly used as markers of cardiac autonomic activity. We sought to establish the development this variability in healthy young infants while sleeping. Patients: We carried out polygraphic studies with electrocardiographic recording in 587 healthy infants aged from 5 to 26 weeks. Methods: We determined several variables over a period of 400 minutes sleeping: mean RR interval, 5 time-domain (SDNN, SDNNi, SDANNi, RMSSD, and pNN50) and 5 frequency-domain indexes (spectral power over 3 regions of interest, total power and low-to-high frequency ratio). Frequency-domain indexes were also assessed separately for the periods of quiet sleep and those of rapid eye movement sleep. Results: Our data showed a significant correlation between the indexes of heart rate variability and the mean RR interval, the breathing rate, and the corrected age of the infants. We also demonstrated the importance of the maturation of the sleeping patterns. Conclusion: These data in a large cohort of healthy infants confirm a progressive maturation of the autonomic nervous system during sleep, and may be used to examine the influence of physiological and pathophysiological factors on autonomic control during polygraphic studies.
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