Effects of anesthesia on the response to sleep deprivation

Aaron B. Nelson, Ugo Faraguna, Giulio Tononi, Chiara Cirelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Study Objective: Slow wave activity (SWA) during NREM sleep is the best characterized marker of sleep homeostasis, and the occurrence of sleep slow waves is necessary to reduce sleep need. Recent evidence suggests that sleep slow waves may mediate several beneficial effects of sleep on performance, from the prevention of cognitive impairments to memory consolidation. However, slow waves are also triggered by low doses of many anesthetics, but very few reports have examined whether anesthesia-mediated slow waves affect the homeostatic regulation of sleep. Moreover, no study has examined how sleep is affected by higher doses of anesthetics, which lead to a predominantly " isoelectric" EEG tracing without slow waves. Design: We studied in rats whether 1 hour of a dose of isoflurane or desflurane able to induce almost continuous slow waves (ISO-sw, DES-sw), and of a dose of desflurane resulting in a predominantly isoelectric EEG (DES-iso) reduces the sleep pressure caused by 4 h of sleep deprivation. Anesthesia was compared to a mock condition in which rats were only anesthetized for 2-3 min. Setting: Basic sleep research laboratory. Patients or Participants: Male WKY rats (n = 31). Interventions: Total sleep deprivation by exposure to novel objects starting at light onset, followed by one hour of anesthesia or mock anesthesia. Measurements and Results: One hour of anesthesia (sw or iso) did not affect either sleep duration or the overall sleep pattern. Anesthesia with ISO-sw or DES-sw, both associated with the occurrence of almost continuous slow waves, reduced the SWA rebound expected following 4 h of sleep deprivation. One hour of anesthesia with DES-iso, associated with isoelectric EEG and few slow waves, also reduced the SWA rebound after sleep deprivation, and did so to an extent similar to that observed after DES-sw. However, in contrast to DES-sw, SWA after DES-iso remained chronically lower than in baseline, resulting in reduced slow wave energy (SWE, SWA x time) for at least 2 days. Conclusion: The blunted SWA rebound after ISO-sw and DES-sw suggests that anesthesia slow waves may substitute for sleep slow waves. The reduced SWA rebound after DES-iso may reflect a pathological condition that results in a chronic decrease in SWA, or may suggest that anesthesia slow waves are not an absolute requirement to discharge sleep pressure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1659-1667
Number of pages9
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2010


  • Desflurane
  • Isoflurane
  • Rat
  • Slow wave activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology (medical)
  • Clinical Neurology


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