Sleep and wakefulness in somnambulism: a spectral analysis study

C Guilleminault, D Poyares, F A Aftab, L Palombini, F Abat
Journal of Psychosomatic Research 2001, 51 (2): 411-6

OBJECTIVE: The sleep structure and the dynamics of EEG slow-wave activity (SWA) were investigated in 12 young adults and age- and gender-matched controls.

METHODS: Polysomnography was performed in subjects with well-documented chronic sleepwalking and in matched controls. Blinded visual scoring was performed using the international criteria from the Rechtschaffen and Kales atlas [A manual of standardized technology, techniques and scoring systems for sleep stages of human subjects. Los Angeles: UCLA Brain Information Service, Brain Research Institute, 1968.] and by determining the presence of microarousals as defined in the American Sleep Disorders Association (ASDA) atlas [Sleep 15 (1992) 173.]. An evaluation of SWA overnight was performed on total nocturnal sleep to determine if a difference existed between groups of subjects, since sleepwalking usually originates with slow-wave sleep. Investigation of the delta power in successive nonoverlapping 4-second windows in the 32 seconds just prior to EMG activity associated with a confusional arousal was also conducted. One central EEG lead was used for all analyses.

RESULTS: Somnambulistic individuals experienced more disturbed sleep than controls during the first NREM-REM sleep cycle. They had a higher number of ASDA arousals and presented lower peak of SWA during the first cycle that led to a lower SWA decline overnight. When the investigation focused on the short segment immediately preceding a confusional arousal, they presented an important increase in the relative power of low delta (0.75-2 Hz) just prior to the confusional arousal.

CONCLUSION: Sleepwalkers undergo disturbed nocturnal sleep at the beginning of the night. The increased power of low delta just prior to the confusional arousal experienced may not be related to Stages 3-4 NREM sleep. We hypothesize that it may be translated as a cortical reaction to brain activation.

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