The effect of gender on autonomic and respiratory responses during sleep among both young and middle-aged subjects

M Richard, A R LeBlanc, M H Pennestri, J Montplaisir, J Carrier, G Lavigne, P A Lanfranchi
Sleep Medicine 2007, 8 (7): 760-7

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Sleep affects the control of circulation and respiratory function. Gender and age are also known to have a profound impact on the neural control of circulation. We investigated whether gender affects sleep-related cardiovascular and respiratory responses and whether these vary according to healthy subjects being young or middle-aged.

METHODS: We studied 32 subjects: 8 women and 8 men aged 20-30 years (young), and 8 women and 8 men aged 50-60 years (middle-aged). Young women were under oral contraceptive therapy and middle-aged women were postmenopausal and not receiving hormonal replacement therapy. One-night polysomnography was used to assess RR variability during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) (stage 2) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Low-frequency (LF) and high-frequency (HF) components, in normalized units (LFnu and HFnu) and LF/HF ratio were calculated on five-minute segments selected across the night and averaged for each sleep stage. The respiration frequency in NREM and REM sleep was also measured. Interaction between gender, age and sleep on autonomic and respiration variables was assessed by 2 x 2 x 2 analysis of variance (ANOVA).

RESULTS: Compared to men, women had a greater NREM-to-REM increment in LFnu (gender-by-state interaction, p<0.01), a greater decrement in HFnu (interaction, p<0.01) and a greater increment in LF/HF (interaction, p<0.05). Women also showed a more pronounced increase in respiratory frequency during REM sleep compared to men in both groups of age (gender-by-state interaction, F=7.1, p<0.05). No gender-by-age-by-state interaction was observed to affect autonomic and respiration variables.

CONCLUSION: NREM-to-REM excitatory cardiac and respiratory responses are more marked among women compared to men, regardless of their hormonal status and whether they are young or middle-aged.

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