Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability Change with Sleep Stage in Dairy Cows

LB Hunter*, MJ Haskell, FM Langford, Cheryl O'Connor, James Webster, Kevin Stafford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Changes to the amount and patterns of sleep stages could be a useful tool to assess the effects of stress or changes to the environment in animal welfare research. However, the gold standard method, polysomnography PSG, is difficult to use with large animals such as dairy cows. Heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) can be used to predict sleep stages in humans and could be useful as an easier method to identify sleep stages in cows. We compared the mean HR and HRV and lying posture of dairy cows at pasture and when housed, with sleep stages identified through PSG. HR and HRV were higher when cows were moving their heads or when lying flat on their side. Overall, mean HR decreased with depth of sleep. There was more variability in time between successive heart beats during REM sleep, and more variability in time between heart beats when cows were awake and in REM sleep. These shifts in HR measures between sleep stages followed similar patterns despite differences in mean HR between the groups. Our results show that HR and HRV measures could be a promising alternative method to PSG for assessing sleep in dairy cows
Original languageEnglish
Article number2095
Issue number7
Early online date14 Jul 2021
Publication statusFirst published - 14 Jul 2021


  • Dairy cows
  • Heart rate
  • Heart rate variability
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep


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