BACKGROUND: Homeostatic regulation of sleep is reflected in the maintenance of a daily balance between sleep and wakefulness. Although numerous internal and external factors can influence sleep, it is unclear whether and to what extent the process that keeps track of time spent awake is determined by the content of the waking experience. We hypothesised that alterations in environmental conditions may elicit different types of wakefulness, which will in turn influence both the capacity to sustain continuous wakefulness as well as the rates of accumulating sleep pressure. To address this, we compared the effects of repetitive behaviours such as voluntary wheel running or performing a simple touchscreen task, with wakefulness dominated by novel object exploration, on sleep timing and EEG slow-wave activity (SWA) during subsequent NREM sleep. RESULTS: We find that voluntary wheel running is associated with higher wake EEG theta-frequency activity and results in longer wake episodes, as compared with exploratory behaviour; yet, it does not lead to higher levels of EEG SWA during subsequent NREM sleep in either the frontal or occipital derivation. Furthermore, engagement in a touchscreen task, motivated by food reward, results in lower SWA during subsequent NREM sleep in both derivations, as compared to exploratory wakefulness, even though the total duration of wakefulness is similar. CONCLUSION: Overall, our study suggests that sleep-wake behaviour is highly flexible within an individual and that the homeostatic processes that keep track of time spent awake are sensitive to the nature of the waking experience. We therefore conclude that sleep dynamics are determined, to a large degree, by the interaction between the organism and the environment.
Behaviour, EEG, Exploratory behaviour, Mice, Operant behaviour, Running-wheel activity, Sleep homeostasis, Slow-wave activity, Wakefulness