Slow oscillations are electrical potential oscillations with a spectral peak frequency of ∼0.8 Hz, and hallmark the electroencephalogram during slow-wave sleep. Recent studies have indicated a causal contribution of slow oscillations to the consolidation of memories during slow-wave sleep, raising the question to what extent such oscillations can be induced by external stimulation. Here, we examined whether slow oscillations can be effectively induced by rhythmic acoustic stimulation. Human subjects were examined in three conditions: (i) with tones presented at a rate of 0.8 Hz ('0.8-Hz stimulation'); (ii) with tones presented at a random sequence ('random stimulation'); and (iii) with no tones presented in a control condition ('sham'). Stimulation started during wakefulness before sleep and continued for the first ∼90 min of sleep. Compared with the other two conditions, 0.8-Hz stimulation significantly delayed sleep onset. However, once sleep was established, 0.8-Hz stimulation significantly increased and entrained endogenous slow oscillation activity. Sleep after the 90-min period of stimulation did not differ between the conditions. Our data show that rhythmic acoustic stimulation can be used to effectively enhance slow oscillation activity. However, the effect depends on the brain state, requiring the presence of stable non-rapid eye movement sleep.
© 2012 European Sleep Research Society.