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Free Content Sleep- and circadian-dependent modulation of REM density

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Rapid eye movement (REM) density, a measure of the frequency of rapid eye movements during REM sleep, is known to increase over the course of the sleep episode. However, the circadian modulation of REM density has not been thoroughly evaluated. Data from a forced desynchrony protocol, in which 20 consecutive sleep opportunities were systematically scheduled over the entire circadian cycle, were analysed. The REM density was evaluated from polysomnographically recorded REM sleep episodes, and analyzed as a function of time in the sleep opportunity and as a function of phase in the circadian cycle. The REM density showed a robust increase over the course of the sleep episode. This sleep-dependent increase was observed regardless of circadian phase, because data analyzed from different thirds of the circadian cycle exhibited a similar pattern. The REM density did not show a significant circadian-dependent modulation for data from the entire sleep opportunity. However, analysis of circadian modulation from separate thirds of the sleep opportunity revealed a significant circadian modulation in the last third of the sleep episode. Maximum REM densities were observed when the last third of the sleep episode coincided with the wake-maintenance zone, i.e. ˜8–10 h before the crest of the circadian rhythm of REM sleep propensity. These results confirm the dominant sleep-dependent modulation of REM density, and indicate that the density of REMs is greatest when sleep pressure is low, such as in the latter part of the sleep episode, at which time the circadian modulation of REM density is also appreciable.
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Keywords: REM sleep; forced desynchrony; rapid eye movements

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: Division of Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA,

Publication date: March 1, 2002

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