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J Neurotrauma. 2013 Mar 1;30(5):339-46. doi: 10.1089/neu.2012.2654. Epub 2013 Feb 20.

Sleep in the unresponsive wakefulness syndrome and minimally conscious state.

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Coma Science Group, Cyclotron Research Center, University of Li├Ęge, Belgium.


The goal of our study was to investigate different aspects of sleep, namely the sleep-wake cycle and sleep stages, in the vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (VS/UWS), and minimally conscious state (MCS). A 24-h polysomnography was performed in 20 patients who were in a UWS (n=10) or in a MCS (n=10) because of brain injury. The data were first tested for the presence of a sleep-wake cycle, and the observed sleep patterns were compared with standard scoring criteria. Sleep spindles, slow wave sleep, and rapid eye movement sleep were quantified and their clinical value was investigated. According to our results, an electrophysiological sleep-wake cycle was identified in five MCS and three VS/UWS patients. Sleep stages did not always match the standard scoring criteria, which therefore needed to be adapted. Sleep spindles were present more in patients who clinically improved within 6 months. Slow wave sleep was present in eight MCS and three VS/UWS patients but never in the ischemic etiology. Rapid eye movement sleep, and therefore dreaming that is a form of consciousness, was present in all MCS and three VS/UWS patients. In conclusion, the presence of alternating periods of eyes-open/eyes-closed cycles does not necessarily imply preserved electrophysiological sleep architecture in the UWS and MCS, contrary to previous definition. The investigation of sleep is a little studied yet simple and informative way to evaluate the integrity of residual brain function in patients with disorders of consciousness with possible clinical diagnostic and prognostic implications.

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