Sleep Medicine Reviews, Vol. 15, page(s): 143-151
Cardiac arrhythmias during sleep are relatively common and include a diverse etiology, from benign sinus bradycardia to potentially fatal ventricular arrhythmias. Predisposing factors include obstructive sleep apnea and cardiac disease. Rapid eye movement (REM)-related bradyarrhythmia syndrome (including sinus arrest and complete atrioventricular block with ventricular asystole) in the absence of an underlying cardiac or physiologic sleep disorder was first described in the early 1980s. Although uncertain, the underlying pathophysiology likely reflects abnormal autonomic neural-cardiac inputs during REM sleep. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a known key modulator of heart rate fluctuations and rhythm during sleep and nocturnal heart rate reflects a balance between the sympathetic-parasympathetic systems. Whether the primary trigger for REM-related bradyarrhythmias reflects abnormal centrally mediated control of the ANS during REM sleep or anomalous baroreflex parasympathetic influences is unknown. This review focuses on the salient features of the REM-related bradyarrhythmia syndrome and explores potential mechanisms with a particular assessment of the relationship between the ANS and nocturnal heart rate fluctuations.