EEG recordings over the sensorimotor cortex show a prominent oscillatory pattern in a frequency range between 12 and 15 Hz (sensorimotor rhythm, SMR) under quiet but alert wakefulness. This frequency range is also abundant during sleep, and overlaps with the sleep spindle frequency band. In the present pilot study we tested whether instrumental conditioning of SMR during wakefulness can enhance sleep and cognitive performance in insomnia. Twenty-four subjects with clinical symptoms of primary insomnia were tested in a counterbalanced within-subjects-design. Each patient participated in a SMR- as well as a sham-conditioning training block. Polysomnographic sleep recordings were scheduled before and after the training blocks. Results indicate a significant increase of 12-15 Hz activity over the course of ten SMR training sessions. Concomitantly, the number of awakenings decreased and slow-wave sleep as well as subjective sleep quality increased. Interestingly, SMR-training enhancement was also found to be associated with overnight memory consolidation and sleep spindle changes indicating a beneficial cognitive effect of the SMR training protocol for SMR "responders" (16 out of 24 participants). Although results are promising it has to be concluded that current results are of a preliminary nature and await further proof before SMR-training can be promoted as a non-pharmacological approach for improving sleep quality and memory performance.
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