Typical changes in spectral electroencephalographic (EEG) activity and heart rate (HR) have been described in periodic leg movements (PLM) associated with or without microarousals (MA). We aimed to determine the effects of sleep stage and wakefulness on these responses to ascertain whether a common pattern of EEG and HR activation takes place.
The time course of EEG spectral activity and HR variability associated with PLM was analysed in 13 patients during light NREM sleep, rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and wakefulness. The same analysis was also conducted for PLM without MA occurring in stage 2.
A significant EEG and electrocardiogram (ECG) activation was found associated with PLM during sleep, but not during wakefulness. While in light NREM sleep, an increase in delta and theta bands was detected before the PLM onset, in REM sleep the EEG activation occurred simultaneously with the PLM onset. Moreover, during stage 1 and REM sleep, alpha and fast frequencies tended to remain sustained after the PLM onset. In contrast, during wakefulness, a small and not significant increase in cerebral activity was present, starting at the PLM onset and persisting in the post-movement period. A typical pattern of cardiac response was present during NREM and REM sleep, the autonomic activation being lesser and prolonged during wakefulness.
We conclude that the EEG and HR responses to PLM differ between sleep stages and wakefulness with lesser changes found during wakefulness.
These findings suggest that specific sleep state-dependent mechanisms may underlie the occurrence of PLM.