Objectives: A very strong SWS intensity reflected by both an increased level of SWA and an abnormal sleep spindles distribution would be responsible for the major difficulty of parasomniac subjects in waking up from SWS, leading to episodes of parasomnia.
Methods: Eleven adult parasomniac subjects, 6 females and 5 males, with sleepwalking (SW) and/or sleep terrors (ST) and 11 age- and sex-matched control subjects underwent polysomnography (PSG) during 2 consecutive nights. After an habituation and selection night followed by a 16 h period of controlled wakefulness, the sleep EEGs of the parasomniac and control subjects were analyzed on the second night by computer-aided visual scoring (integrated digital filtering analysis, IDFA) and spectral analysis (fast Fourier transform, FFT). Throughout the night subject behaviour was controlled and recorded by means of a video infra-red camera and videotape recorder.
Results: Fifteen episodes of parasomnia were recorded during the second night in the 11 subjects. Sleep analysis showed significantly (P<0.05) decreased sleep efficiency and stage 2 sleep (absolute values and percentage of total sleep time) and increased (P<0.05) slow wave sleep (absolute values and percentage of total sleep time). Arousal index and wake-time after sleep onset were significantly higher in parasomniac subjects. Sleep fragmentation was mainly concentrated in stages 3 and 4. The slow wave activity (SWA) absolute values averaged during the 2 min immediately preceding an episode of parasomnia were significantly higher than the SWA averaged during 2 min in the same stage 10 min before an episode of parasomnia. Moreover, SWA was higher in the slow wave sleep (SWS) episodes preceding the episode of parasomnia than in the episodes preceding an awakening without an episode of parasomnia. The temporal course of SWA showed a slower exponential decay in both groups, but the time constant of the curve was larger in parasomniacs than in controls. Finally, in control subjects the sleep spindle index increased from the beginning to the end of the night while it was equally distributed in parasomniacs.
Conclusions: An abnormal deep sleep associated with a high SWS fragmentation might be responsible for the occurrence of SW or ST episodes.