Wearable physiological monitors have become increasingly popular, often worn during people’s daily life, collecting data 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In the last decade, these devices have attracted the attention of the scientific community as they allow us to automatically extract information about user physiology (e.g., heart rate, sleep quality and physical activity) enabling inference on their health. However, the biggest issue about the data recorded by wearable devices is the missing values due to motion and mechanical artifacts induced by external stimuli during data acquisition. This missing data could negatively affect the assessment of heart rate (HR) response and estimation of heart rate variability (HRV), that could in turn provide misleading insights concerning the health status of the individual. In this study, we focus on healthy subjects with normal heart activity and investigate the effects of missing variation of the timing between beats (RR-intervals) caused by motion artifacts on HRV features estimation by randomly introducing missing values within a five min time windows of RR-intervals obtained from the nsr2db PhysioNet dataset by using Gilbert burst method. We then evaluate several strategies for estimating HRV in the presence of missing values by interpolating periods of missing values, covering the range of techniques often deployed in the literature, via linear, quadratic, cubic, and cubic spline functions. We thereby compare the HRV features obtained by handling missing data in RR-interval time series against HRV features obtained from the same data without missing values. Finally, we assess the difference between the use of interpolation methods on time (i.e., the timestamp when the heartbeats happen) and on duration (i.e., the duration of the heartbeats), in order to identify the best methodology to handle the missing RR-intervals. The main novel finding of this study is that the interpolation of missing data on time produces more reliable HRV estimations when compared to interpolation on duration. Hence, we can conclude that interpolation on duration modifies the power spectrum of the RR signal, negatively affecting the estimation of the HRV features as the amount of missing values increases. We can conclude that interpolation in time is the optimal method among those considered for handling data with large amounts of missing values, such as data from wearable sensors.
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