Dynamics of sleep: Exploring critical transitions and early warning signals

Comput Methods Programs Biomed. 2020 Sep;193:105448. doi: 10.1016/j.cmpb.2020.105448. Epub 2020 Mar 21.


Background and objectives: In standard practice, sleep is classified into distinct stages by human observers according to specific rules as for instance specified in the AASM manual. We here show proof of principle for a conceptualization of sleep stages as attractor states in a nonlinear dynamical system in order to develop new empirical criteria for sleep stages.

Methods: EEG (single channel) of two healthy sleeping participants was used to demonstrate this conceptualization. Firstly, distinct EEG epochs were selected, both detected by a MLR classifier and through manual scoring. Secondly, change point analysis was used to identify abrupt changes in the EEG signal. Thirdly, these detected change points were evaluated on whether they were preceded by early warning signals.

Results: Multiple change points were identified in the EEG signal, mostly in interplay with N2. The dynamics before these changes revealed, for a part of the change points, indicators of generic early warning signals, characteristic of complex systems (e.g., ecosystems, climate, epileptic seizures, global finance systems).

Conclusions: The sketched new framework for studying critical transitions in sleep EEG might benefit the understanding of individual and pathological differences in the dynamics of sleep stage transitions. Formalising sleep as a nonlinear dynamical system can be useful for definitions of sleep quality, i.e. stability and accessibility of an equilibrium state, and disrupted sleep, i.e. constant shifting between instable sleep states.

Keywords: Change point analysis; Complex dynamic system; Critical transition; Early warning; Sleep stage; Time series analysis.

MeSH terms

  • Ecosystem*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy*
  • Humans
  • Sleep
  • Sleep Stages