Sleep inertia is the brief period of impaired alertness and performance experienced immediately after waking. Little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying this phenomenon. A better understanding of the neural processes during sleep inertia may offer insight into the awakening process. We observed brain activity every 15 minutes for 1 hour following abrupt awakening from slow wave sleep during the biological night. Using 32-channel electroencephalography, a network science approach, and a within-subject design, we evaluated power, clustering coefficient, and path length across frequency bands under both a control and a polychromatic short-wavelength-enriched light intervention condition. We found that under control conditions, the awakening brain is typified by an immediate reduction in global theta, alpha, and beta power. Simultaneously, we observed a decrease in the clustering coefficient and an increase in path length within the delta band. Exposure to light immediately after awakening ameliorated changes in clustering. Our results suggest that long-range network communication within the brain is crucial to the awakening process and that the brain may prioritize these long-range connections during this transitional state. Our study highlights a novel neurophysiological signature of the awakening brain and provides a potential mechanism by which light improves performance after waking.
Handling Editor: Bratislav Misic