Introduction: Enhanced characterization of sleep architecture, compared with routine polysomnographic metrics such as stage percentages and sleep efficiency, may improve the predictive phenotyping of fragmented sleep. One approach involves using stage transition analysis to characterize sleep continuity.
Methods and principal findings: We analyzed hypnograms from Sleep Heart Health Study (SHHS) participants using the following stage designations: wake after sleep onset (WASO), non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and REM sleep. We show that individual patient hypnograms contain insufficient number of bouts to adequately describe the transition kinetics, necessitating pooling of data. We compared a control group of individuals free of medications, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), medical co-morbidities, or sleepiness (n = 374) with mild (n = 496) or severe OSA (n = 338). WASO, REM sleep, and NREM sleep bout durations exhibited multi-exponential temporal dynamics. The presence of OSA accelerated the "decay" rate of NREM and REM sleep bouts, resulting in instability manifesting as shorter bouts and increased number of stage transitions. For WASO bouts, previously attributed to a power law process, a multi-exponential decay described the data well. Simulations demonstrated that a multi-exponential process can mimic a power law distribution.
Conclusion and significance: OSA alters sleep architecture dynamics by decreasing the temporal stability of NREM and REM sleep bouts. Multi-exponential fitting is superior to routine mono-exponential fitting, and may thus provide improved predictive metrics of sleep continuity. However, because a single night of sleep contains insufficient transitions to characterize these dynamics, extended monitoring of sleep, probably at home, would be necessary for individualized clinical application.