AUTHORS: Bréchet L, Brunet D, Perogamvros L, Tononi G, Michel CM

Scientific Reports, 10(1): 17069, October 2020


Why do people sometimes report that they remember dreams, while at other times they recall no experience? Despite the interest in dreams that may happen during the night, it has remained unclear which brain states determine whether these conscious experiences will occur and what prevents us from waking up during these episodes. Here we address this issue by comparing the EEG activity preceding awakenings with recalled vs. no recall of dreams using the EEG microstate approach. This approach characterizes transiently stable brain states of sub-second duration that involve neural networks with nearly synchronous dynamics. We found that two microstates (3 and 4) dominated during NREM sleep compared to resting wake. Further, within NREM sleep, microstate 3 was more expressed during periods followed by dream recall, whereas microstate 4 was less expressed. Source localization showed that microstate 3 encompassed the medial frontal lobe, whereas microstate 4 involved the occipital cortex, as well as thalamic and brainstem structures. Since NREM sleep is characterized by low-frequency synchronization, indicative of neuronal bistability, we interpret the increased presence of the “frontal” microstate 3 as a sign of deeper local deactivation, and the reduced presence of the “occipital” microstate 4 as a sign of local activation. The latter may account for the occurrence of dreaming with rich perceptual content, while the former may account for why the dreaming brain may undergo executive disconnection and remain asleep. This study demonstrates that NREM sleep consists of alternating brain states whose temporal dynamics determine whether conscious experience arises.

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