Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder that often associates with reduced heart rate variability (HRV) indicating autonomic dysfunction. HRV is mainly composed of high frequency components attributed to parasympathetic activity and low frequency components attributed to sympathetic activity. Although, time domain and frequency domain features of HRV have been used to sleep studies, the complex interaction between nonlinear independent frequency components with OSA is less known. This study included 30 electrocardiogram recordings (20 OSA patient recording and 10 healthy subjects) with apnea or normal label in 1-min segment. All segments were divided into three groups: N-N group (normal segments of normal subjects), P-N group (normal segments of OSA subjects) and P-OSA group (apnea segments of OSA subjects). Frequency domain indices and interaction indices were extracted from segmented RR intervals. Frequency domain indices included nuLF, nuHF, and LF/HF ratio; interaction indices included mutual information (MI) and transfer entropy (TE (H→L) and TE (L→H)). Our results demonstrated that LF/HF ratio was significant higher in P-OSA group than N-N group and P-N group. MI was significantly larger in P-OSA group than P-N group. TE (H→L) and TE (L→H) showed a significant decrease in P-OSA group, compared to P-N group and N-N group. TE (H→L) were significantly negative correlation with LF/HF ratio in P-N group (r
= −0.789, p
= 0.000) and P-OSA group (r
= −0.661, p
= 0.002). Our results indicated that MI and TE is powerful tools to evaluate sympathovagal modulation in OSA. Moreover, sympathovagal modulation is more imbalance in OSA patients while suffering from apnea event compared to free event.
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