Bursts of sympathetic activity in muscle nerves are phase-locked to the cardiac cycle by the sinoaortic baroreflexes. Acoustic arousal from non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep reduces the normally invariant interval between the R-wave of the electrocardiogram (ECG) and the peak of the corresponding sympathetic burst; however, the effects of other forms of sleep disruption (i.e. spontaneous arousals and apnoea-induced arousals) on this temporal relationship are unknown.We simultaneously recorded muscle sympathetic nerve activity in the peroneal nerve (intraneural electrodes) and the ECG (surface electrodes) in seven healthy humans and three patients with sleep apnoea syndrome during NREM sleep.In seven subjects, burst latencies were shortened subsequent to spontaneous K complexes (1.297 ± 0.024 s, mean ± s.e.m.) and spontaneous arousals (1.268 ± 0.044 s) compared with latencies during periods of stable NREM sleep (1.369 ± 0.023 s). In six subjects who demonstrated spontaneous apnoeas during sleep, apnoea per se did not alter burst latency relative to sleep with stable electroencephalogram (EEG) and breathing (1.313 ± 0.038 vs. 1.342 ± 0.026 s); however, following apnoea-induced EEG perturbations, burst latencies were reduced (1.214 ± 0.034 s).Arousal-induced reduction in sympathetic burst latency may reflect a temporary diminution of baroreflex buffering of sympathetic outflow. If so, the magnitude of arterial pressure perturbations during sleep (e.g. those caused by sleep disordered breathing and periodic leg movements) may be augmented by arousal
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