Neurophysiological signature of gamma-hydroxybutyrate augmented sleep in male healthy volunteers may reflect biomimetic sleep enhancement: a randomized controlled trial

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019 Oct;44(11):1985-1993. doi: 10.1038/s41386-019-0382-z. Epub 2019 Apr 8.


Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is an endogenous GHB/GABAB receptor agonist, which has demonstrated potency in consolidating sleep and reducing excessive daytime sleepiness in narcolepsy. Little is known whether GHB's efficacy reflects the promotion of physiological sleep mechanisms and no study has investigated its sleep consolidating effects under low sleep pressure. GHB (50 mg/kg p.o.) and placebo were administered in 20 young male volunteers at 2:30 a.m., the time when GHB is typically given in narcolepsy, in a randomized, double-blinded, crossover manner. Drug effects on sleep architecture and electroencephalographic (EEG) sleep spectra were analyzed. In addition, current source density (CSD) analysis was employed to identify the effects of GHB on the brain electrical sources of neuronal oscillations. Moreover, lagged-phase synchronization (LPS) analysis was applied to quantify the functional connectivity among sleep-relevant brain regions. GHB prolonged slow-wave sleep (stage N3) at the cost of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Furthermore, it enhanced delta-theta (0.5-8 Hz) activity in NREM and REM sleep, while reducing activity in the spindle frequency range (13-15 Hz) in sleep stage N2. The increase in delta power predominated in medial prefrontal cortex, parahippocampal and fusiform gyri, and posterior cingulate cortex. Theta power was particularly increased in the prefrontal cortex and both temporal poles. Moreover, the brain areas that showed increased theta power after GHB also exhibited increased lagged-phase synchronization among each other. Our study in healthy men revealed distinct similarities between GHB-augmented sleep and physiologically augmented sleep as seen in recovery sleep after prolonged wakefulness. The promotion of the sleep neurophysiological mechanisms by GHB may thus provide a rationale for GHB-induced sleep and waking quality in neuropsychiatric disorders beyond narcolepsy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electroencephalography
  • GABA-B Receptor Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sleep / drug effects*
  • Sodium Oxybate / pharmacology*
  • Young Adult


  • GABA-B Receptor Agonists
  • Sodium Oxybate