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Increasing evidence suggests that cortical dynamics during wake exhibits long-range temporal correlations suitable to integrate inputs over extended periods of time to increase the signal-to-noise ratio in decision making and working memory tasks. Accordingly, sleep has been suggested as a state characterized by a breakdown of long-range correlations. However, detailed measurements of neuronal timescales that support this view have so far been lacking. Here, we show that the cortical timescales measured at the individual neuron level in freely behaving male rats change as a function of vigilance state and time awake. Although quiet wake and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep are characterized by similar, long timescales, these long timescales are abrogated in non-REM sleep. We observe that cortex dynamics exhibits rapid transitions between long-timescale states and sleep-like states governed by short timescales even during wake. This becomes particularly evident during sleep deprivation, when the interplay between these states can lead to an increasing disruption of long timescales that are restored after sleep. Experiments and modeling identify the intrusion of neuronal offline periods as a mechanism that disrupts the long timescales arising from reverberating cortical network activity. Our results provide novel mechanistic and functional links among behavioral manifestations of sleep, wake, and sleep deprivation and specific measurable changes in the network dynamics relevant for characterizing the brain's changing information-processing capabilities. They suggest a network-level function of sleep to reorganize cortical networks toward states governed by long timescales to ensure efficient information integration for the time awake.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Lack of sleep deteriorates several key cognitive functions, yet the neuronal underpinnings of these deficits have remained elusive. Cognitive capabilities are generally believed to benefit from a neural circuit's ability to reliably integrate information. Persistent network activity characterized by long timescales may provide the basis for this integration in cortex. Here, we show that long-range temporal correlations indicated by slowly decaying autocorrelation functions in neuronal activity are dependent on vigilance states. Although wake and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep exhibit long timescales, these long-range correlations break down during non-REM sleep. Our findings thus suggest two distinct states in terms of timescale dynamics. During extended wake, the rapid switching to sleep-like states with short timescales can lead to an overall decline in cortical timescales.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





10114 - 10124


cortical network function, sleep, sleep deprivation, timescales, Animals, Arousal, Frontal Lobe, Male, Nerve Net, Parietal Lobe, Rats, Rats, Sprague-Dawley, Sleep Deprivation, Sleep Stages, Time Factors, Wakefulness