Propofol anesthesia and sleep: a high-density EEG study

Sleep. 2011 Mar 1;34(3):283-91A. doi: 10.1093/sleep/34.3.283.


Study objectives: The electrophysiological correlates of anesthetic sedation remain poorly understood. We used high-density electroencephalography (hd-EEG) and source modeling to investigate the cortical processes underlying propofol anesthesia and compare them to sleep.

Design: 256-channel EEG recordings in humans during propofol anesthesia.

Setting: Hospital operating room.

Patients or participants: 8 healthy subjects (4 males).

Interventions: N/A.

Measurements and results: Initially, propofol induced increases in EEG power from 12-25 Hz. Loss of consciousness (LOC) was accompanied by the appearance of EEG slow waves that resembled the slow waves of NREM sleep. We compared slow waves in propofol to slow waves recorded during natural sleep and found that both populations of waves share similar cortical origins and preferentially propagate along the mesial components of the default network. However, propofol slow waves were spatially blurred compared to sleep slow waves and failed to effectively entrain spindle activity. Propofol also caused an increase in gamma (25-40 Hz) power that persisted throughout LOC. Source modeling analysis showed that this increase in gamma power originated from the anterior and posterior cingulate cortices. During LOC, we found increased gamma functional connectivity between these regions compared to the wakefulness.

Conclusions: Propofol anesthesia is a sleep-like state and slow waves are associated with diminished consciousness even in the presence of high gamma activity.

Keywords: EEG; Slow oscillation; anesthesia; consciousness; gamma.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology
  • Consciousness / physiology
  • Electroencephalography* / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Propofol / pharmacology*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Propofol