Sleep spindles are transient oscillatory waveforms that occur during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep across widespread cortical areas. In humans, spindles can be classified as either slow or fast, but large individual differences in spindle frequency as well as methodological difficulties have hindered progress towards understanding their function. Using two nights of high-density electroencephalography recordings from 28 healthy individuals, we first characterize the individual variability of NREM spectra and demonstrate the difficulty of determining subject-specific spindle frequencies. We then introduce a novel spatial filtering approach that can reliably separate subject-specific spindle activity into slow and fast components that are stable across nights and across N2 and N3 sleep. We then proceed to provide detailed analyses of the topographical expression of individualized slow and fast spindle activity. Group-level analyses conform to known spatial properties of spindles, but also uncover novel differences between sleep stages and spindle classes. Moreover, subject-specific examinations reveal that individual topographies show considerable variability that is stable across nights. Finally, we demonstrate that topographical maps depend nontrivially on the spindle metric employed. In sum, our findings indicate that group-level approaches mask substantial individual variability of spindle dynamics, in both the spectral and spatial domains. We suggest that leveraging, rather than ignoring, such differences may prove useful to further our understanding of the physiology and functional role of sleep spindles.
Keywords: EEG; generalized eigendecomposition; individual differences; sleep spindles; spatial filter.