fMRI spectral signatures of sleep

Chen Song, Melanie Boly, Enzo Tagliazucchi, Helmut Laufs, Giulio Tononi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Sleep can be distinguished from wake by changes in brain electrical activity, typically assessed using electroencephalography (EEG). The hallmark of nonrapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep is the shift from high-frequency, low-amplitude wake EEG to low-frequency, high-amplitude sleep EEG dominated by spindles and slow waves. Here we identified signatures of sleep in brain hemodynamic activity, using simultaneous functional MRI (fMRI) and EEG. We found that, at the transition from wake to sleep, fMRI blood oxygen level–dependent (BOLD) activity evolved from a mixed-frequency pattern to one dominated by two distinct oscillations: a low-frequency (<0.1 Hz) oscillation prominent in light sleep and correlated with the occurrence of spindles, and a high-frequency oscillation (>0.1 Hz) prominent in deep sleep and correlated with the occurrence of slow waves. The two oscillations were both detectable across the brain but exhibited distinct spatiotemporal patterns. During the falling-asleep process, the low-frequency oscillation first appeared in the thalamus, then the posterior cortex, and lastly the frontal cortex, while the high-frequency oscillation first appeared in the midbrain, then the frontal cortex, and lastly the posterior cortex. During the waking-up process, both oscillations disappeared first from the thalamus, then the frontal cortex, and lastly the posterior cortex. The BOLD oscillations provide local signatures of spindle and slow wave activity. They may be employed to monitor the regional occurrence of sleep or wakefulness, track which regions are the first to fall asleep or wake up at the wake–sleep transitions, and investigate local homeostatic sleep processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2016732119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
StatePublished - 26 Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • BOLD oscillations
  • fMRI-EEG
  • sleep
  • wake–sleep transitions


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