Acoustic enhancement of slow wave sleep on consecutive nights improves alertness and attention in chronically short sleepers

Charmaine Diep, Gary Garcia-Molina, Jeff Jasko, Jessica Manousakis, Lynn Ostrowski, David White, Clare Anderson

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Chronic sleep restriction has been linked to occupational errors and motor vehicle crashes. Enhancing slow wave sleep may alleviate some of the cognitive deficits associated with chronic sleep restriction. However, the extent to which acoustic stimulation of slow wave activity (SWA) may improve alertness and attention is not well established, particularly with respect to consecutive nights of exposure. Methods: Twenty-five healthy adults (32.9 ± 8.2 years; 16 female) who self-restricted their sleep during workdays participated in a randomized, double-blind, cross-over study. Participants wore an automated acoustic stimulation device for two consecutive nights. Acoustic tones (50 ms long) were delivered on the up-phase of the slow wave first and then at constant 1-s inter-tone-intervals once N3 was identified (STIM), until an arousal or shift to another sleep stage occurred, or at inaudible decibels during equivalent stimulation periods (SHAM). Subjective alertness/fatigue (KSS, Samn-Perelli) was assessed across both days, and objective measures of alertness (MSLT) and attention (PVT) were assessed after two nights of stimulation. Results: After one night of acoustic stimulation, increased slow wave energy was observed in 68% of participants, with an average significant increase of 17.7% (p = 0.01), while Night 2 was associated with a 22.2% increase in SWA (p = 0.08). SWE was highly stable across the two nights of STIM (ICC 0.93, p < 0.001), and around half (56%) of participants were consistently classified as responders (11/25) or non-responders (3/25). Daytime testing showed that participants felt more alert and awake following each night of acoustic stimulation (p < 0.05), with improved objective attention across the day following two nights of acoustic stimulation. Discussion: Consecutive nights of acoustic stimulation enhanced SWA on both nights, and improved next day alertness and attention. Given large individual differences, we highlight the need to examine both the long-term effects of stimulation, and to identify inter-individual differences in acoustic stimulation response. Our findings suggest that the use of an acoustic device to enhance slow wave sleep may alleviate some of the deficits in alertness and attention typically associated with sleep restriction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-79
Number of pages11
JournalSleep Medicine
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • Acoustic stimulation
  • Alertness
  • Attention
  • Slow wave sleep

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