Circadian regulation of slow waves in human sleep: Topographical aspects

Alpar S Lazar, Zsolt I Lazar, Derk-Jan Dijk

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Slow waves (SWs, 0.5-4Hz) in field potentials during sleep reflect synchronized alternations between bursts of action potentials and periods of membrane hyperpolarization of cortical neurons. SWs decline during sleep and this is thought to be related to a reduction of synaptic strength in cortical networks and to be central to sleep's role in maintaining brain function. A central assumption in current concepts of sleep function is that SWs during sleep, and associated recovery processes, are independent of circadian rhythmicity. We tested this hypothesis by quantifying all SWs from 12 EEG derivations in 34 participants in whom 231 sleep periods were scheduled across the circadian cycle in a 10-day forced-desynchrony protocol which allowed estimation of the separate circadian and sleep-dependent modulation of SWs. Circadian rhythmicity significantly modulated the incidence, amplitude, frequency and the slope of the SWs such that the peaks of the circadian rhythms in these slow-wave parameters were located during the biological day. Topographical analyses demonstrated that the sleep-dependent modulation of SW characteristics was most prominent in frontal brain areas whereas the circadian effect was similar to or greater than the sleep-dependent modulation over the central and posterior brain regions. The data demonstrate that circadian rhythmicity directly modulates characteristics of SWs thought to be related to synaptic plasticity and that this modulation depends on topography. These findings have implications for the understanding of local sleep regulation and conditions such as ageing, depression, and neurodegeneration which are associated with changes in SWs, neural plasticity and circadian rhythmicity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-134
Number of pages12
Early online date12 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015


  • Adult
  • Brain Waves
  • Cerebral Cortex
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sleep
  • Sleep Stages
  • Young Adult

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