Sleep-wake behavior in the rat: ultradian rhythms in a light-dark cycle and continuous bright light

Stephenson R, Lim J, Famina S, Caron AM, Dowse HB

J. Biol. Rhythms 2012 Dec;27(6):490-501

PMID: 23223374


Ultradian rhythms are a prominent but little-studied feature of mammalian sleep-wake and rest-activity patterns. They are especially evident in long-term records of behavioral state in polyphasic animals such as rodents. However, few attempts have been made to incorporate ultradian rhythmicity into models of sleep-wake dynamics, and little is known about the physiological mechanisms that give rise to ultradian rhythms in sleep-wake state. This study investigated ultradian dynamics in sleep and wakefulness in rats entrained to a 12-h:12-h light-dark cycle (LD) and in rats whose circadian rhythms were suppressed and free-running following long-term exposure to uninterrupted bright light (LL). We recorded sleep-wake state continuously for 7 to 12 consecutive days and used time-series analysis to quantify the dynamics of net cumulative time in each state (wakefulness [WAKE], rapid eye movement sleep [REM], and non-REM sleep [NREM]) in each animal individually. Form estimates and autocorrelation confirmed the presence of significant ultradian and circadian rhythms; maximum entropy spectral analysis allowed high-resolution evaluation of multiple periods within the signal, and wave-by-wave analysis enabled a statistical evaluation of the instantaneous period, peak-trough range, and phase of each ultradian wave in the time series. Significant ultradian periodicities were present in all 3 states in all animals. In LD, ultradian range was approximately 28% of circadian range. In LL, ultradian range was slightly reduced relative to LD, and circadian range was strongly attenuated. Ultradian rhythms were found to be quasiperiodic in both LD and LL. That is, ultradian period varied randomly around a mean of approximately 4 h, with no relationship between ultradian period and time of day.