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J Sleep Res. 2016 Jun;25(3):278-86. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12372. Epub 2016 Jan 18.

Alpha-wave frequency characteristics in health and insomnia during sleep.

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Max-Planck-Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden, Germany.
Department of Physics, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.
Interdisciplinary Center of Sleep Medicine, Charité Berlin, Berlin, Germany.


Appearances of alpha waves in the sleep electrencephalogram indicate physiological, brief states of awakening that lie in between wakefulness and sleep. These microstates may also cause the loss in sleep quality experienced by individuals suffering from insomnia. To distinguish such pathological awakenings from physiological ones, differences in alpha-wave characteristics between transient awakening and wakefulness observed before the onset of sleep were studied. In polysomnographic datasets of sleep-healthy participants (n = 18) and patients with insomnia (n = 10), alpha waves were extracted from the relaxed, wake state before sleep onset, wake after sleep-onset periods and arousals of sleep. In these, alpha frequency and variability were determined as the median and standard deviation of inverse peak-to-peak intervals. Before sleep onset, patients with insomnia showed a decreased alpha variability compared with healthy participants (P < 0.05). After sleep onset, both groups showed patterns of decreased alpha frequency that was lower for wake after sleep-onset periods of shorter duration. For patients with insomnia, alpha variability increased for short wake after sleep-onset periods. Major differences between the two groups were encountered during arousal. In particular, the alpha frequency in patients with insomnia rebounded to wake levels, while the frequency in healthy participants remained at the reduced level of short wake after sleep-onset periods. Reductions in alpha frequency during wake after sleep-onset periods may be related to the microstate between sleep and wakefulness that was described for such brief awakenings. Reduced alpha variability before sleep may indicate a dysfunction of the alpha generation mechanism in insomnia. Alpha characteristics may also prove valuable in the study of other sleep and attention disorders.


Wake after sleep onset (WASO), and phase description; arousals; electroencephalography

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