The effect of TENS on sleep: A pilot study

Sleep Med. 2023 Jul:107:126-136. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2023.04.029. Epub 2023 Apr 28.


Background: Insomnia is the second most common neuropsychiatric disorder, but the current treatments are not very effective. There is therefore an urgent need to develop better treatments. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) may be a promising means of treating insomnia.

Objective: This work aims to explore whether and how TENS modulate sleep and the effect of stimulation waveforms on sleep.

Methods: Forty-five healthy subjects participated in this study. Electroencephalography (EEG) data were recorded before and after four mode low-frequency (1 Hz) TENS with different waveforms, which were formed by superimposing sine waves of different high frequencies (60-210 Hz) and low frequencies (1-6 Hz). The four waveform modes are formed by combining sine waves of varying frequencies. Mode 1 (M1) consists of a combination of high frequencies (60-110 Hz) and low frequencies (1-6 Hz). Mode 2 (M2) is made up of high frequencies (60-210 Hz) and low frequencies (1-6 Hz). Mode 3 (M3) consists of high frequencies (110-160 Hz) and low frequencies (1-6 Hz), while mode 4 (M4) is composed of high frequencies (160-210 Hz) and low frequencies (1-6 Hz). For M1, M3 and M4, the high frequency portions of the stimulus waveforms account for 50%, while for M2, the high frequency portion of the waveform accounts for 65%. For each mode, the current intensities ranged from 4 mA to 7 mA, with values for each participant adjusted according to individual tolerance. During stimulation, the subjects were stimulated at the greater occipital nerve by the four mode TENS.

Results: M1, M3, and M4 slowed down the frequency of neural activity, broadened the distribution of theta waves, and caused a decrease in activity in wakefulness-related regions and an increase in activity in sleep-related regions. However, M2 has the opposite modulation effect.

Conclusion: These results indicated that low-frequency TENS (1 Hz) may facilitate sleep in a waveform-specific manner. Our findings provide new insights into the mechanisms of sleep modulation by TENS and the design of effective insomnia treatments.

Keywords: Electroencephalography (EEG); Greater occipital nerve; Sleep; Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Sleep
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders* / therapy
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation* / methods