The Cyclic Alternating Pattern (CAP) is an intrinsic component of normal NREM sleep. This periodic activity is organized in biphasic 40-sec cycles clustered in sequences. CAP sequences are functionally correlated to long lasting arousal instability. CAP is induced by endogenous stimuli (change in sleep stage, body movements) but it is considerably increased by exogenous impulses (noise). CAP rate (CAPR) is a novel polysomnographic variable that measures the amount of CAP during sleep, and it may be calculated for total sleep time and total NREM sleep. We demonstrated that all-night exposure to a 45 dB(A) white noise induced a significant CAPR increase, correlated with impaired sleep quality, even without changes in sleep architecture. We hypothesized that administration of an hypnotic should attenuate this CAPR rise. This hypothesis was verified in a double-blind placebo study, in which 12 healthy young adults received zolpidem, a new imidazopyridine hypnotic. During the noise perturbed nights, zolpidem clearly demonstrated a protective effect on CAPR (mainly during slow wave sleep) and on sleep quality. CAPR appears to be a sensitive indicator of sleep quality, and the cumulative distribution of CAPR throughout the night represents a new method to evaluate the effects of an hypnotic in sleep.
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