Interrelations between delta waves, spindles and slow oscillations in human NREM sleep and their functional role in memory

Larissa N. Wüst, Daria Antonenko, Robert Malinowski, Liliia Khakimova, Ulrike Grittner, Klaus Obermayer, Julia Ladenbauer, Agnes Flöel

Certain neurophysiological characteristics of sleep, in particular slow oscillations (SO), sleep spindles, and their temporal coupling, have been well characterized and associated with human memory formation. Delta waves, which are somewhat higher in frequency and lower in amplitude compared to SO, have only recently been found to play a critical role in memory processing of rodents, through a competitive interplay between SO-spindle and delta-spindle coupling. However, human studies that comprehensively address delta waves, their interactions with spindles and SOs as well as their functional role for memory are still lacking.

Electroencephalographic data were acquired across three naps of 33 healthy older human participants (17 female) to investigate delta-spindle coupling and the interplay between delta and SO-related activity. Additionally, we determined intra-individual stability of coupling measures and their potential link to the ability to form novel memories.

Our results revealed weaker delta-spindle compared to SO-spindle coupling. Contrary to our initial hypothesis, we found that increased delta activity was accompanied by stronger SO-spindle coupling. Moreover, we identified the ratio between SO- and delta-nested spindles as the sleep parameter that predicted ability to form novel memories best.

Our study suggests that SOs, delta waves and sleep spindles should be jointly considered when aiming to link sleep physiology and memory formation in aging.


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