The effects of physical vibration on heart rate variability as a measure of drowsiness

N. Zhang, M. Fard, M. H.U. Bhuiyan, D. Verhagen, M. F. Azari, S. R. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated the effects of low frequency whole body vibration on heart rate variability (HRV), a measure of autonomic nervous system activation that differentiates between stress and drowsiness. Fifteen participants underwent two simulated driving tasks for 60 min each: one involved whole-body 4–7 Hz vibration delivered through the car seat, and one involved no vibration. The Karolinska Sleepiness Scale (KSS), a subjective measure of drowsiness, demonstrated a significant increase in drowsiness during the task. Within 15–30 min of exposure to vibration, autonomic (sympathetic) activity increased (p <.01) in response to the stress of maintaining alertness and performance when drowsy, and peaked at 60 min (p <.001). Changes in three other HRV domains [higher LF/HF ratios, lower RMSSD (ms) and pNN50 (%) values] were consistent with increased sympathetic activation. These findings have implications for the future development of equivalent drowsiness contours leading to improvements in road safety. Practitioner summary: The effects of physical vibration on driver drowsiness have not been well investigated. This laboratory-controlled study found characteristic changes in heart rate variability (HRV) domains that indicated progressively increasing neurological effort in maintaining alertness in response to low frequency vibration, which becomes significant within 30 min. Abbreviations: ANS: autonomic nervous system; Ctrl: control; EEG: electroencephalography; HF: the power in high frequency range (0.15 Hz-0.4Hz) in the PSD relected parasympathetic activity only; HRV: heart rate variability; KSS: karolinska sleepiness scale; LF: the power in low frequency range (0.04 Hz-0.15Hz) in the PSD reflected both sympathetic and parasympathetic activity of the autonomic nervous system; LF/HF ratio: the ratio of LF to HF indicated the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic activity; RMSSD: the root mean square of difference of adjacent RR interval; pNN50: the number of successive RR interval pairs that differed by more than 50 ms divided by the total number of RR intervals; RR interval: the differences between successive R-wave occurrence times; PSD: power spectral density; RTP: research training program; SD: standard deviation; SEM: standard error of the Mean; Vib: vibration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1259-1272
Number of pages14
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • autonomic nervous system (ans)
  • driving
  • drowsiness
  • mental workload
  • vibration

Cite this