• auditory stimulation;
  • cross-modality;
  • K-complexes;
  • micro-arousal;
  • sleep arousal;
  • vibrotactile stimulation


Micro-arousals occur spontaneously or in response to exogenous and endogenous sensory input during sleep. The function of micro-arousals remains unclear, for example, whether it reflects a disturbance or a preparatory response to environmental changes. The goal of this study was to assess arousal responsiveness when two types of sensory stimulations were used: auditory (AD) alone and the addition of a vibrotactile (VT) sensation. Ten normal sleepers participated in three nights of polygraphic recordings. The first night was for habituation and to rule out sleep disorders, and the second to collect baseline sleep data. During the third night, AD and VT + AD stimuli, with three levels of intensities for auditory and vibratory signals, were randomly given to induce arousal responses in sleep stages 2, 3 and 4 and rapid eye movement (REM). The frequency of the arousal responses increased with stimulus intensity for all sleep stages and was lowest in stages 3 and 4. In non-REM (NREM) sleep, combined VT + AD stimulation induced more frequent and more intense arousal responses than AD alone. In REM sleep, more frequent micro-arousals rather than awakenings were triggered by combined stimulations. In stage 2, the response rate of total induced K-complexes did not differ between both types of stimulations while more K-complexes followed by arousals were evoked by the combined VT + AD stimulation than by the AD alone. The induced arousals were associated with an increase in heart rate in all sleep stages. An increase in suprahyoid muscle tone was observed in NREM sleep only, REM being not associated with a rise in muscle tone following experimental stimulation. Most leg and body movements occurred in response to induced awakenings. These results suggest that the cross-modality sensory stimuli triggered more arousal responses in comparison with single-modality stimuli. In an attempt to wake a sleeping subject, the addition of a tactile stimulation, such as shaking the shoulder, is an effective strategy that increases the arousal probability.