Overnight Delta Dynamics Associated with Daytime Psychomotor Performance in Adults with Insomnia and Healthy Controls

Nat Sci Sleep. 2022 Feb 17;14:217-230. doi: 10.2147/NSS.S330939. eCollection 2022.


Purpose: Sleep is vital to cognition, yet underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Although sleep duration and continuity are two well-established contributors, additional factors-including homeostatic sleep drive processes-may also underlie cognition-related sleep restoration. This study investigates the relative contributions of sleep EEG factors to psychomotor functioning in adults with insomnia and healthy controls (HC) to identify the most significant sleep factors supporting psychomotor functioning.

Materials and methods: Adults with insomnia (n = 37) and HC (n = 39) completed 3 nights of polysomnography and a complex psychomotor task (switching attention task; SAT). Univariate correlations identified the most significant predictors (traditional PSG, spectral EEG, initial delta peak, and overnight delta decline) of SAT performance, which were then entered into multivariable linear regressions examining whether predictors remained significant after accounting for shortened/fragmented sleep and whether relationships differed across groups.

Results: In addition to greater wake after sleep onset (WASO; r = 0.33), a slower overnight delta decline (r = 0.50) and a lower initial delta peak (r = -0.38) were the most significant predictors of poorer SAT performance. Both overnight delta decline (F(7, 68) = 12.52, p < 0.001) and initial delta peak (F(7, 68) = 7.85, p = 0.007) remained significant predictors after controlling for demographics, total sleep time, and WASO. Relationships were analogous across subject groups.

Conclusion: Findings suggest that, in addition to sleep duration and continuity, processes related to recovery from and dissipation of homeostatic sleep drive may support psychomotor performance and broadly support daytime functioning in individuals with and without insomnia. Future research may examine overnight delta dynamics as transdiagnostic processes supporting cognition-related sleep restoration across a range of clinical populations.

Keywords: EEG; cognition; delta power; homeostatic sleep drive; insomnia; reaction time.