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Electroencephalographic correlates of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome




Behav Brain Funct. 2009 Oct 6;5(1):43. [Epub ahead of print]


Electroencephalographic correlates of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.


Decker MJ, Tabassum H, Lin JM, Reeves WC.



BACKGROUND: Unremitting fatigue and unrefreshing sleep, hallmark traits of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), are also pathognomonic of sleep disorders. Yet, no reproducible perturbations of sleep architecture, multiple sleep latency times or Epworth Sleepiness Scores are found to be associated consistently with CFS. This led us to hypothesize that sleep homeostasis, rather than sleep architecture, may be perturbed in CFS. To probe this hypothesis, we measured and compared EEG frequencies associated with restorative sleep between persons with CFS and matched controls, both derived from a population-based sample.


METHODS: We evaluated overnight polysomnography (PSG) in 35 CFS and 40 control subjects. PSG records were manually scored and epochs containing artifact removed. Fast Fourier Transformation was utilized to deconstruct individual EEG signals into primary frequency bands of alpha, delta, theta, sigma, and beta frequency domains. The spectral power of each frequency domain for each sleep state was compared between persons with CFS and matched controls.


RESULTS: In persons with CFS, delta power was diminished during slow wave sleep, but elevated during both stage 1 and REM. Alpha power was reduced during stage 2, slow wave, and REM sleep. Those with CFS also had significantly lower theta, sigma, and beta spectral power during stage 2, Slow Wave Sleep, and REM.


DISCUSSION: Employing quantitative EEG analysis we demonstrate reduced spectral power of cortical delta activity during SWS. We also establish reduced spectral power of cortical alpha activity, with the greatest reduction occurring during REM sleep. Reductions in theta, beta, and sigma spectral power were also apparent.


CONCLUSIONS: Unremitting fatigue and unrefreshing sleep, the waking manifestations of CFS, may be the consequence of impaired sleep homeostasis rather than a primary sleep disorder.

PMID: 19807920 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]



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  • It has always been known that chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) patients experience poor quality sleep but the findings of this study appear to improve our understanding the exact nature of this. It has always been assumed patients simply didn't get enough slow wave (stage 3 & 4) sleep, the most restorative type, which meant they awoke unrefreshed. These results however suggest the picture is more complicated than this with ME/CFS patients showing abnormal brain wave activity across all stages of sleep. Since quality sleep can make a huge difference to daytime functioning, symptoms and quality of life it is to be hoped these findings lead to sleep therapies tailored to ME/CFS patients specifically.

    Sleep Architecture - Refers to periods spent in the different stages of sleep.

    Sleep Homeostasis - Refers to brainwave activity throughout every stage of sleep.

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