• arousal;
  • autonomic nervous system;
  • electroencephalogram;
  • heart rate;
  • respiratory rate;
  • sleep homeostasis

Microarousals (MAs) are brief transient events that occur during normal sleep in humans and with increased frequency in disordered sleep, especially in association with sleep apnoea. In a feline model, we discovered transient cardiorespiratory events during nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep that exhibited consistent features with similarities to human MAs. It was observed that MAs have two distinct phases. Phase I (MAI) is characterized by an abrupt increase in electromyogram (EMG) amplitude (> 50%), increased electrooculogram (EOG) activity and accelerated frequency of hippocampal electroencephalographic (EEG) activity. MAI lasts 4.1 ± 0.3 s. Phase II (MAII), lasting 9.8 ± 0.8 s, is characterized by high frequency EEG activity, but EMG, EOG and hippocampal activity remain at baseline levels. Mean inspiratory rate begins to increase 15 s before the onset of the MA, followed 10 s later by the increase in mean heart rate. Mean respiratory rate decreases sharply through MAII, and returns to baseline levels 15 s after the MA. During MAII mean heart rate decreases quickly; there is increased respiratory irregularity, followed by a prolonged ventilatory overshoot. The abrupt shift in heart rate is coincident with the change in breath timing seen during MAII. Heart rate returns to baseline levels 10 s following the MA. Integrating our findings with those described previously in humans, we propose that MAs may serve as a homeostatic mechanism which is designed to restore cardiorespiratory function allowing the continuity of sleep.