Slow wave sleep (SWS) is associated with spontaneous brain oscillations that are thought to participate in sleep homeostasis and to support the processing of information related to the experiences of the previous awake period. At the cellular level, during SWS, a slow oscillation (<1 Hz) synchronizes firing patterns in large neuronal populations and is reflected on electroencephalography (EEG) recordings as large-amplitude, low-frequency waves. By using simultaneous EEG and event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we characterized the transient changes in brain activity consistently associated with slow waves (>140 microV) and delta waves (75-140 microV) during SWS in 14 non-sleep-deprived normal human volunteers. Significant increases in activity were associated with these waves in several cortical areas, including the inferior frontal, medial prefrontal, precuneus, and posterior cingulate areas. Compared with baseline activity, slow waves are associated with significant activity in the parahippocampal gyrus, cerebellum, and brainstem, whereas delta waves are related to frontal responses. No decrease in activity was observed. This study demonstrates that SWS is not a state of brain quiescence, but rather is an active state during which brain activity is consistently synchronized to the slow oscillation in specific cerebral regions. The partial overlap between the response pattern related to SWS waves and the waking default mode network is consistent with the fascinating hypothesis that brain responses synchronized by the slow oscillation restore microwake-like activity patterns that facilitate neuronal interactions.
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