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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Topographical aspects in the dynamics of sleep homeostasis in young men: individual patterns

Thomas Rusterholz12 and Peter Achermann123*

Author affiliations

1 Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

2 Neuroscience Center Zurich, University and ETH Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

3 Zurich Center for Integrative Human Physiology, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2011, 12:84  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-12-84

Published: 16 August 2011



Sleep homeostasis refers to the increase of sleep pressure during waking and the decrease of sleep intensity during sleep. Electroencephalography (EEG) slow-wave activity (SWA; EEG power in the 0.75-4.5 Hz range) is a marker of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep intensity and can be used to model sleep homeostasis (Process S). SWA shows a frontal predominance, and its increase after sleep deprivation is most pronounced in frontal areas. The question arises whether the dynamics of the homeostatic Process S also show regional specificity. Furthermore, the spatial distribution of SWA is characteristic for an individual and may reflect traits of functional anatomy. The aim of the current study was to quantify inter-individual variation in the parameters of Process S and investigate their spatial distribution. Polysomnographic recordings obtained with 27 EEG derivations of a baseline night of sleep and a recovery night of sleep after 40 h of sustained wakefulness were analyzed. Eight healthy young subjects participated in this study. Process S was modeled by a saturating exponential function during wakefulness and an exponential decline during sleep. Empirical mean SWA per NREM sleep episode at episode midpoint served for parameter estimation at each derivation. Time constants were restricted to a physiologically meaningful range.


For both, the buildup and decline of Process S, significant topographic differences were observed: The decline and buildup of Process S were slowest in fronto-central areas while the fastest dynamics were observed in parieto-occipital (decrease) and frontal (buildup) areas. Each individual showed distinct spatial patterns in the parameters of Process S and the parameters differed significantly between individuals.


For the first time, topographical aspects of the buildup of Process S were quantified. Our data provide an additional indication of regional differences in sleep homeostasis and support the notion of local aspects of sleep regulation.