EEG microstates of wakefulness and NREM sleep

Verena Brodbeck, Alena Kuhn, Frederic von Wegner, Astrid Morzelewski, Enzo Tagliazucchi, Sergey Borisov, Christoph M. Michel, Helmut Laufs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

163 Scopus citations


EEG-microstates exploit spatio-temporal EEG features to characterize the spontaneous EEG as a sequence of a finite number of quasi-stable scalp potential field maps. So far, EEG-microstates have been studied mainly in wakeful rest and are thought to correspond to functionally relevant brain-states. Four typical microstate maps have been identified and labeled arbitrarily with the letters A, B, C and D. We addressed the question whether EEG-microstate features are altered in different stages of NREM sleep compared to wakefulness.32-channel EEG of 32 subjects in relaxed wakefulness and NREM sleep was analyzed using a clustering algorithm, identifying the most dominant amplitude topography maps typical of each vigilance state. Fitting back these maps into the sleep-scored EEG resulted in a temporal sequence of maps for each sleep stage.All 32 subjects reached sleep stage N2, 19 also N3, for at least 1. min and 45. s. As in wakeful rest we found four microstate maps to be optimal in all NREM sleep stages. The wake maps were highly similar to those described in the literature for wakefulness. The sleep stage specific map topographies of N1 and N3 sleep showed a variable but overall relatively high degree of spatial correlation to the wake maps (Mean: N1 92%; N3 87%). The N2 maps were the least similar to wake (mean: 83%).Mean duration, total time covered, global explained variance and transition probabilities per subject, map and sleep stage were very similar in wake and N1. In wake, N1 and N3, microstate map C was most dominant w.r.t. global explained variance and temporal presence (ratio total time), whereas in N2 microstate map B was most prominent. In N3, the mean duration of all microstate maps increased significantly, expressed also as an increase in transition probabilities of all maps to themselves in N3. This duration increase was partly-but not entirely-explained by the occurrence of slow waves in the EEG.The persistence of exactly four main microstate classes in all NREM sleep stages might speak in favor of an in principle maintained large scale spatial brain organization from wakeful rest to NREM sleep. In N1 and N3 sleep, despite spectral EEG differences, the microstate maps and characteristics were surprisingly close to wakefulness. This supports the notion that EEG microstates might reflect a large scale resting state network architecture similar to preserved fMRI resting state connectivity. We speculate that the incisive functional alterations which can be observed during the transition to deep sleep might be driven by changes in the level and timing of activity within this architecture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2129-2139
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • EEG
  • Microstates
  • Non-REM
  • Rest
  • Resting-state
  • Sleep
  • Topography
  • Wakefulness


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