Elife. 2020 Jul 28;9:e55092. doi: 10.7554/eLife.55092.
Deep non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and general anesthesia with propofol are prominent states of reduced arousal linked to the occurrence of synchronized oscillations in the electroencephalogram (EEG). Although rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is also associated with diminished arousal levels, it is characterized by a desynchronized, ‘wake-like’ EEG. This observation implies that reduced arousal states are not necessarily only defined by synchronous oscillatory activity. Using intracranial and surface EEG recordings in four independent data sets, we demonstrate that the 1/f spectral slope of the electrophysiological power spectrum, which reflects the non-oscillatory, scale-free component of neural activity, delineates wakefulness from propofol anesthesia, NREM and REM sleep. Critically, the spectral slope discriminates wakefulness from REM sleep solely based on the neurophysiological brain state. Taken together, our findings describe a common electrophysiological marker that tracks states of reduced arousal, including different sleep stages as well as anesthesia in humans.