In the present paper, we reviewed a large body of evidence, mainly from quantitative EEG studies of our laboratory, supporting the notion that sleep is a local and use-dependent process. Quantitative analyses of sleep EEG recorded from multiple cortical derivations clearly indicate that every sleep phenomenon, from sleep onset to the awakening, is strictly local in nature. Sleep onset first occurs in frontal areas, and a frontal predominance of low-frequency power persists in the first part of the night, when the homeostatic processes mainly occur, and then it vanishes. Upon awakening, we showed an asynchronous EEG activation of different cortical areas, the more anterior ones being the first to wake up. During extended periods of wakefulness, the increase of sleepiness-related low-EEG frequencies is again evident over the frontal derivations. Similarly, experimental manipulations of sleep length by total sleep deprivation, partial sleep curtailment or even selective slow-wave sleep deprivation lead to a slow-wave activity rebound localized especially on the anterior derivations. Thus, frontal areas are crucially involved in sleep homeostasis. According to the local use-dependent theory, this would derive from a higher sleep need of the frontal cortex, which in turn is due to its higher levels of activity during wakefulness. The fact that different brain regions can simultaneously exhibit different sleep intensities indicates that sleep is not a spatially global and uniform state, as hypothesized in the theory. We have also reviewed recent evidence of localized effects of learning and plasticity on EEG sleep measures. These studies provide crucial support to a key concept in the theory, the one claiming that local sleep characteristics should be use-dependent. Finally, we have reported data corroborating the notion that sleep is not necessarily present simultaneously in the entire brain. Our stereo-EEG recordings clearly indicate that sleep and wakefulness can co-exist in different areas, suggesting that vigilance states are not necessarily temporally discrete states. We conclude that understanding local variations in sleep propensity and depth, especially as a result of brain plasticity, may provide in the near future insightful hints into the fundamental functions of sleep.
Keywords: Genetics, plasticity, quantitative EEG, sleep function, sleep homeostasis, sleep need, slow waves, spectral analysis, electroencephalographically, comprehensive framework, multichannel sleep, topographical analysis, human surface EEG, highdensity arrays, paradoxical insomnia
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