Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in primary sleep disorders

Sleep Med Rev. 2023 Feb:67:101735. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2022.101735. Epub 2022 Dec 8.


Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a widely used non-invasive neuromodulatory technique. When applied in sleep medicine, the main hypothesis explaining its effects concerns the modulation of synaptic plasticity and the strength of connections between the brain areas involved in sleep disorders. Recently, there has been a significant increase in the publication of rTMS studies in primary sleep disorders. A multi-database-based search converges on the evidence that rTMS is safe and feasible in chronic insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), restless legs syndrome (RLS), and sleep deprivation-related cognitive deficits, whereas limited or no data are available for narcolepsy, sleep bruxism, and REM sleep behavior disorder. Regarding efficacy, the stimulation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally, right parietal cortex, and dominant primary motor cortex (M1) in insomnia, as well as the stimulation of M1 leg area bilaterally, left primary somatosensory cortex, and left M1 in RLS reduced subjective symptoms and severity scale scores, with effects lasting for up to weeks; conversely, no relevant effect was observed in OSAS and narcolepsy. Nevertheless, several limitations especially regarding the stimulation protocols need to be considered. This review should be viewed as a step towards the further contribution of individually tailored neuromodulatory techniques for sleep disorders.

Keywords: Cortical excitability; Neuromodulation; Neuroplasticity; Non-invasive brain stimulation; Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation; Sleep disorders; Sleep homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Humans
  • Narcolepsy*
  • Restless Legs Syndrome*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods