High definition-transcranial direct current stimulation changes older adults' subjective sleep and corresponding resting-state functional connectivity

Int J Psychophysiol. 2018 Jul;129:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2018.05.002. Epub 2018 May 8.


With advanced age, older adults show functional deterioration in sleep. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a noninvasive brain stimulation, modulates individuals' behavioral performance in various cognitive domains. However, the modulation effect and neural mechanisms of tDCS on sleep, especially for the elderly population are not clear. Here, we aimed to investigate whether high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) could modulate community-dwelling older adults' subjective sleep and whether these potential improvements are associated with the large-scale brain activity alterations recorded by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Thirty-one older adults were randomly allocated to the HD-tDCS group and the control group. HD-tDCS was applied for 25 min at 1.5 mA per day for two weeks. The anode electrode was placed over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, surrounded by 4 cathodes at 7 cm radius. All participants completed sleep neuropsychological assessments and fMRI scans individually before and after intervention. Behaviorally, we observed a HD-tDCS-induced enhancement of older adults' sleep duration. On the aspect of the corresponding neural alterations, we observed that HD-tDCS decreased the functional connectivity between the default mode network (DMN) and subcortical network. More importantly, the decoupling connectivity of the DMN-subcortical network was correlated with the improvements of subjective sleep in the HD-tDCS group. Our findings add novel behavioral and neural evidences about tDCS-induced sleep improvement in community-dwelling older adults. With further development, tDCS may be used as an alternative treatment for sleep disorders and alleviate the dysfunction of brain networks induced by aging.

Keywords: High-definition transcranial direct current stimulation; Large-scale brain network; Older adults; Resting-state magnetic resonance imaging; Sleep.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Rest / physiology
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation
  • Treatment Outcome