Autonomic sympathetic activation, for instance following noxious stimuli, decreases the size and flattens the shape of the photoplethysmographic peripheral pulse waveform. We report a simple measure of the waveform shape, the ratio of mean-to-peak wave amplitude, for measuring nociception level during general anaesthesia. Fifty participants, anaesthetised with propofol and remifentanil, were randomly allocated to one of three different remifentanil effect-site concentrations (1, 3 and 5−1). Tracheal intubation increased the mean (SD) plethysmographic ratio from 0.38 (0.06) to 0.48 (0.04), p = 2.6 × 10−16. The mean (SD) ratios following intubation at remifentanil effect-site concentrations of 1−1, 3−1 and 5−1, were 0.49 (0.03), 0.48 (0.03) and 0.45 (0.04), respectively. Remifentanil therefore suppressed changes in the mean-to-peak ratio caused by tracheal intubation (p = 0.006). The ratio of the mean-to-peak plethysmographic amplitude may represent a simple measure of the balance of autonomic sympathetic and parasympathetic activity under general anaesthesia, and its performance following intubation was significantly different from peak amplitude (p = 0.046).