Using heart rate profiles during sleep as a biomarker of depression

Mysa Saad, Laura B. Ray, Brad Bujaki, Amir Parvaresh, Iryna Palamarchuk, Joseph De Koninck, Alan Douglass, Elliott K. Lee, Louis J. Soucy, Stuart Fogel, Charles M. Morin, Célyne Bastien, Zul Merali, Rébecca Robillard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Abnormalities in heart rate during sleep linked to impaired neuro-cardiac modulation may provide new information about physiological sleep signatures of depression. This study assessed the validity of an algorithm using patterns of heart rate changes during sleep to discriminate between individuals with depression and healthy controls. Methods: A heart rate profiling algorithm was modeled using machine-learning based on 1203 polysomnograms from individuals with depression referred to a sleep clinic for the assessment of sleep abnormalities, including insomnia, excessive daytime fatigue, and sleep-related breathing disturbances (n = 664) and mentally healthy controls (n = 529). The final algorithm was tested on a distinct sample (n = 174) to categorize each individual as depressed or not depressed. The resulting categorizations were compared to medical record diagnoses. Results: The algorithm had an overall classification accuracy of 79.9% [sensitivity: 82.8, 95% CI (0.73-0.89), specificity: 77.0, 95% CI (0.67-0.85)]. The algorithm remained highly sensitive across subgroups stratified by age, sex, depression severity, comorbid psychiatric illness, cardiovascular disease, and smoking status. Conclusions: Sleep-derived heart rate patterns could act as an objective biomarker of depression, at least when it co-occurs with sleep disturbances, and may serve as a complimentary objective diagnostic tool. These findings highlight the extent to which some autonomic functions are impaired in individuals with depression, which warrants further investigation about potential underlying mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number168
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Heart rate variability
  • Major depressive disorder


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