Background: In major depressive disorder (MDD), patients often express subjective sleep complaints, while polysomnographic studies report only subtle alterations of the electroencephalographic signal. We hypothesize that differentiating the signal into its oscillatory and aperiodic components may bring new insights into our understanding of sleep abnormalities in MDD. Specifically, we investigated aperiodic neural activity during sleep and its relationships with sleep architecture, depression severity, and responsivity to antidepressant treatment. Methods: Polysomnography was recorded in 38 patients with MDD (in unmedicated and 7-day-medicated states) and 38 age-matched healthy control subjects (N = 76). The aperiodic power component was calculated using irregularly resampled auto-spectral analysis. Depression severity was assessed with the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. We replicated the analysis using 2 independently collected datasets of medicated patients and control subjects (N = 60 and N = 80, respectively). Results: Unmedicated patients showed flatter aperiodic slopes compared with control subjects during non–rapid eye movement (non-REM) stage 2 sleep (p = .009). Medicated patients showed flatter aperiodic slopes compared with their earlier unmedicated state (p values < .001) and control subjects during all sleep stages (p values < .03). In medicated patients, flatter aperiodic slopes during non-REM sleep were linked to the higher proportion of N1, lower proportion of REM, delayed onset of N3 and REM, and shorter total sleep time. Conclusions: Flatter slopes of aperiodic electroencephalographic power may reflect noisier neural activity due to increased excitation-to-inhibition balance, representing a new disease-relevant feature of sleep in MDD.
- Aperiodic power
- Excitation-to-inhibition ratio
- Impaired sleep
- Major depressive disorder
- Neural noise