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Delta wave

delta waves sleep music, delta wave ekg
A delta wave is a high amplitude brain wave with a frequency of oscillation between 05–4 hertz Delta waves, like other brain waves, are recorded with an electroencephalogram1 EEG and are usually associated with the deep stage 3 of NREM sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep SWS, and aid in characterizing the depth of sleep

This is a screen shot of a patient during Slow Wave Sleep stage 3 The high amplitude EEG is highlighted in red This screen shot represents a 30-second epoch 30 seconds of data


  • 1 Background and history
  • 2 Classification and features
  • 3 Neurophysiology
    • 31 Sex differences
    • 32 Brain localization and biochemistry
  • 4 Development
  • 5 Disruptions and disorders
    • 51 Temporal Low-voltage Irregular Delta Wave
    • 52 Parasomnias
    • 53 Sleep deprivation
    • 54 Parkinson's disease
    • 55 Schizophrenia
    • 56 Diabetes and insulin resistance
    • 57 Fibromyalgia
    • 58 Alcoholism
    • 59 Temporal lobe epilepsy
    • 510 Other disorders
  • 6 Consciousness and dreaming
  • 7 Cultural and religious role
  • 8 Pharmacology
  • 9 Effects of diet
  • 10 See also
    • 101 Brain waves
  • 11 References

Background and historyedit

"Delta waves" were first described in the 1930s by W Grey Walter, who improved upon Dr Hans Berger's electroencephalograph machine EEG to detect alpha and delta waves Delta waves can be quantified using Quantitative electroencephalography qEEG using freely available toolboxes, such as, EEGLAB or the Neurophysiological Biomarker Toolbox NBT

Classification and featuresedit

Delta waves, like all brain waves, can be detected by electroencephalography EEG Delta waves were originally defined as having a frequency between 1-4 Hz, although more recent classifications put the boundaries at between 05 and 2 Hz They are the slowest and highest amplitude classically described brainwaves, although recent studies have described slower <01 Hz oscillations2 Delta waves begin to appear in stage 3 sleep, but by stage 4 nearly all spectral activity is dominated by delta waves Stage 3 sleep is defined as having less than 50% delta wave activity, while stage 4 sleep has more than 50% delta wave activity These stages have recently been combined and are now collectively referred to as stage N3 slow-wave sleep3 During N3 SWS, delta waves account for 20% or more of the EEG record during this stage4 Delta waves occur in all mammals, and potentially all animals as well

Delta waves are often associated with another EEG phenomenon, the K-complex K-Complexes have been shown to immediately precede delta waves in slow wave sleep5

Delta waves have also been classified according to the location of the activity into frontal FIRDA, temporal TIRDA, and occipital OIRDA intermittent delta activity6


Sex differencesedit

Women have been shown to have more delta wave activity, and this is true across most mammal species This discrepancy does not become apparent until early adulthood in the 30's or 40's, in humans, with men showing greater age-related reductions in delta wave activity than women7

Brain localization and biochemistryedit

Delta waves can arise either in the thalamus or in the cortex When associated with the thalamus, they are thought to arise in coordination with the reticular formation89 In the cortex, the suprachiasmatic nuclei have been shown to regulate delta waves, as lesions to this area have been shown to cause disruptions in delta wave activity In addition, delta waves show a lateralization, with right hemisphere dominance during sleep10 Delta waves have been shown to be mediated in part by T-type calcium channels11 During delta wave sleep, neurons are globally inhibited by gamma-aminobutyric acid GABA12

Delta activity stimulates the release of several hormones, including growth hormone releasing hormone GHRH and prolactin PRL GHRH is released from the hypothalamus, which in turn stimulates release of growth hormone GH from the pituitary The secretion of PRL, which is closely related to GH, is also regulated by the pituitary The release of thyroid stimulating hormone TSH, is decreased in response to delta-wave signaling13


Infants have been shown to spend a great deal of time in slow-wave sleep, and thus have more delta wave activity In fact, delta-waves are the predominant wave forms of infants Analysis of the waking EEG of a newborn infant indicates that delta wave activity is predominant in that age, and still appears in a waking EEG of five-year-olds14 Delta wave activity during slow-wave sleep declines during adolescence, with a drop of around 25% reported between the ages of 11 and 14 years15 Delta waves have been shown to decrease across the lifespan, with most of the decline seen in the mid-forties By the age of about 75, stage four sleep and delta waves may be entirely absent16 In addition to a decrease in the incidence of delta waves during slow-wave sleep in the elderly, the incidence of temporal delta wave activity is commonly seen in older adults, and incidences also increase with age17

Disruptions and disordersedit

Regional delta wave activity not associated with NREM sleep was first described by W Grey Walter, who studied cerebral hemisphere tumors Disruptions in delta wave activity and slow wave sleep are seen in a wide array of disorders In some cases there may be increases or decreases in delta wave activity, while others may manifest as disruptions in delta wave activity, such as alpha waves presenting in the EEG spectrum Delta wave disruptions may present as a result of physiological damage, changes in nutrient metabolism, chemical alteration, or may also be idiopathic Disruptions in delta activity is seen in adults during states of intoxication or delirium and in those diagnosed with various neurological disorders such as dementia or schizophrenia18

Temporal Low-voltage Irregular Delta Waveedit

Temporal low-voltage irregular delta wave activity has been commonly detected in patients with ischemic brain diseases, particularly in association with small ischemic lesions and is seen to be indicative of early-stage cerebrovascular damage19


Parasomnias, a category of sleep disorders, are often associated with disruptions in slow wave sleep Sleep walking and sleep talking most often occur during periods of high delta wave activity Sleep walkers have also been shown to have more hypersynchronous delta activity HSD compared to total time spent in stages 2, 3, and 4 sleep relative to healthy controls HSD refers to the presence of continuous, high-voltage > 150 uV delta waves seen in sleep EEGs20 Parasomnias which occur deep in NREM sleep also include sleep terrors and confusional arousals

Sleep deprivationedit

Total sleep deprivation has been shown to increase delta wave activity during sleep recovery,21 and has also been shown to increase hypersynchronous delta activity20

Parkinson's diseaseedit

Sleep disturbances, as well as dementia, are common features of Parkinson's disease, and patients with this disease show disrupted brain wave activity The drug Rotigotine, developed for the treatment of Parkinson's disease, has been shown to increase delta power and slow-wave sleep Delta-wave inducing peptide injected into the substantia nigra of the rat model has been shown to increase Parkinsonian symptoms22


People suffering schizophrenia have shown disrupted EEG patterns, and there is a close association of reduced delta waves during deep sleep and negative symptoms associated with schizophrenia During slow wave sleep stages 3 and 4, schizophrenics have been shown to have reduced delta wave activity, although delta waves have also been shown to be increased during waking hours in more severe forms of schizophrenia23 A recent study has shown that the right frontal and central delta wave dominance, seen in healthy individuals, is absent in patients with schizophrenia In addition, the negative correlation between delta wave activity and age is also not observed in those with schizophrenia24

Diabetes and insulin resistanceedit

Disruptions in slow wave delta sleep have been shown to increase risk for development of Type II diabetes, potentially due to disruptions in the growth hormone secreted by the pituitary In addition, hypoglycemia occurring during sleep may also disrupt delta-wave activity25 Low-voltage irregular delta waves, have also been found in the left temporal lobe of diabetic patients, at a rate of 56% compared to 14% in healthy controls2627


Patients suffering from fibromyalgia often report unrefreshing sleep A study conducted in 1975 by Moldovsky et al showed that the delta wave activity of these patients in stages 3 and 4 sleep were often interrupted by alpha waves They later showed that depriving the body of delta wave sleep activity also induced musculoskeletal pain and fatigue28


Alcoholism has been shown to produce sleep with less slow wave sleep and less delta power, while increasing stage 1 and REM incidence in both men and women In long-term alcohol abuse, the influences of alcohol on sleep architecture and reductions in delta activity have been shown to persist even after long periods of abstinence29

Temporal lobe epilepsyedit

Slow waves, including delta waves, are associated with seizure-like activity within the brain W Grey Walter was the first person to use delta waves from an EEG to locate brain tumors and lesions causing temporal lobe epilepsy30 Neurofeedback has been suggested as a treatment for temporal lobe epilepsy, and theoretically acts to reduce inappropriate delta wave intrusion, although there has been limited clinical research in this area31

Other disordersedit

Other disorders frequently associated with disrupted delta-wave activity include:

  • Narcolepsy
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive–compulsive disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD and its three subtypes32
  • Juvenile chronic arthritis33

Consciousness and dreamingedit

Initially, dreaming was thought to only occur in rapid eye movement sleep, though it is now known that dreaming may also occur during slow-wave sleep Delta waves and delta wave activity are marked, in most people, by an apparently unconscious state, and the loss of physical awareness as well as the "iteration of information" Nevertheless, some people who practice a type of deep meditation called Yoga Nidra Sleep yoga can remain conscious while in delta-sleep34

Delta wave activity has also been purported to aid in the formation of declarative and explicit memory formation 12

Cultural and religious roleedit

In Advaita Vedanta, deep dreamless sleep is considered the highest state of consciousness If one can stay aware or conscious while in deepest dreamless sleep, a deep meditative state known as "jagrat sushupti" is said to be achievable This notion of paradoxical consciousness may be linked to high cortical activity which happens during the delta-sleep 35


While most drugs that affect sleep do so by stimulating sleep onset, or disrupting REM sleep, a number of chemicals and drugs have been shown to alter delta wave activity

  • Delta sleep-inducing peptide, as the name suggests, induces delta wave EEG activity
  • Alcohol reduces SWS delta wave activity, thereby restricting the release of growth hormone GH by the pituitary36
  • The muramyl peptide, muramyl dipeptide MDP, N-acetylmuramyl-L-alanyl-D-isoglutamine has been shown to increase delta wave activity during slow wave sleep37
  • The drug Gabapentin, a drug used to control epileptic seizures, increases delta-wave activity and slow wave sleep in adults38
  • While hypnotic drugs increase slow wave sleep, they do not increase delta wave activity, and instead increase spindle activity during slow wave sleep39
  • Gamma-hydroxy butyrate GHB increases delta slow-wave sleep as well as sleep-related growth hormone GH39

Effects of dietedit

Diets very low in carbohydrates, such as a ketogenic diet, have been shown to increase the amount of delta activity and slow wave sleep in healthy individuals40

See alsoedit

  • Delta sleep-inducing peptide
  • Electroencephalography
  • K-complex
  • Sensorimotor rhythm
  • slow-wave sleep
  • Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

Brain wavesedit

  • Delta wave – 01 – 4 Hz
  • Theta wave – 4 – 7 Hz
  • Alpha wave – 8 – 15 Hz
  • Mu wave – 75 – 125 Hz
  • SMR wave – 125 – 155 Hz
  • Beta wave – 16 – 31 Hz
  • Gamma wave – 32 – 100 Hz


  1. ^ Walker, Peter 1999 Chambers dictionary of science and technology Edinburgh: Chambers p 312 ISBN 0-550-14110-3 
  2. ^ Hiltunen T1, Kantola J, Abou Elseoud A, Lepola P, Suominen K, Starck T, Nikkinen J, Remes J, Tervonen O, Palva S, Kiviniemi V, Palva JM 2014 Infra-slow EEG fluctuations are correlated with resting-state network dynamics in fMRI Article The Journal of Neuroscience, 342: 356-362
  3. ^ "Glossary A resource from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Produced in partnership with WGBH Educational Foundation" Harvard University 2008 Retrieved 2009-03-11 "The 1968 categorization of the combined Sleep Stages 3 – 4 was reclassified in 2007 as Stage N3"
  4. ^ Iber C, Ancoli-Israel S, Chesson A, and Quan SF for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine The AASM Manual for the Scoring of Sleep and Associated Events: Rules, Terminology and Technical Specifications, 1st ed: Westchester, Illinois: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2007
  5. ^ De Gennaro, L, Ferrara, M, & Bertini, M 2000 The spontaneous K-complex during stage 2 sleep: is it the 'forerunner' of delta waves Article Neuroscience Letters, 2911, 41–43
  6. ^ Brigo F 2011 "Intermittent rhythmic delta activity patterns" Epilepsy & Behavior : E&B Review 20 2: 254–6 doi:101016/jyebeh201011009 PMID 21276757 
  7. ^ Ehlers, C L, and D J Kupfer 1997 "Sleep: Do Young Adult Men and Women Age Differently" J Sleep Res 6 3: 211–15 doi:101046/j1365-2869199700041x  CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list link
  8. ^ Gross, Richard E 1992 Psychology: the science of mind and behaviour London: Hodder & Stoughton pp 112–113 ISBN 0-340-56136-X 
  9. ^ Maquet, P, Degueldre, C, Delfiore, G, Aerts, J, Peters, J M, Luxen, A, et al 1997 Functional neuroanatomy of human slow wave sleep Journal of Neuroscience, 178, 2807-2812
  11. ^ Lee, J, Kim, D, Shin, H Lack of delta waves and sleep disturbances during non-rapid eye movement sleep in mice lacking a1g-subunit of T-type calcium channels PNAS;10152: 18195-18199
  12. ^ a b Hobson, J , & Pace-Schott, E 2002 The Cognitive Neuroscience of Sleep: Neuronal Systems, Consciousness and Learning Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 39, 679-693
  13. ^ Brandenberger, G 2003 The Ulradien Rhythm of Sleep: Diverse Relations with Pituitary and Adrenal Hormones Revue Neurologique, 15911, S5-S10
  14. ^ Taylor, Eric; Rutter, Michael 2002 Child and adolescent psychiatry Oxford: Blackwell Science p 162 ISBN 0-632-05361-5 
  15. ^ "Brain Wave Changes In Adolescence Signal Reorganization Of The Brain" ScienceDaily 2006-12-08 Retrieved 2008-03-24 
  16. ^ Colrain, I M, Crowley, K E, Nicholas, C L, Afifi, L, Baker, F C, Padilla, M, et al 2010 Sleep evoked delta frequency responses show a linear decline in amplitude across the adult lifespan Article Neurobiology of Aging, 315, 874-883
  17. ^ Inui, Koji, Eishi Motomura, Hiroyuki Kaige, and Sen Nomura "Temporal Slow Waves and Cerebrovascular Diseases - Inui - 2008 - Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences" Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 555 2001: 525-31 Wiley Online Library Web 29 Nov 2010
  18. ^ Hales, Robert E; Yudofsky, Stuart C 2007 The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Fifth Edition American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Neuropsychiatry American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc ISBN 1-58562-239-7 
  19. ^ Inui, Koji, Hozumi Kawamoto, Masahiko Kawakita, Kazuhisa Wako, Hiromichi Nakashima, Masanori Kamihara, and Junichi Nomura "Temporal Delta Wave and Ischemic Lesions on MRI" Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 484 1994: 891-98 Print
  20. ^ a b Pilon M; Zadra A; Joncas S et al Hypersynchronous delta waves and somnambulism: brain topography and effect of sleep deprivation SLEEP 2006;291: 77-84
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  22. ^ Kryzhanovskii, G N, A A Shandra, L S Godlevskii, and I I Mikhaleva "Appearance of Parkinsonian Syndrome after Administration of Delta Sleep-inducing Peptide into the Rat Substantia Nigra" Biull Eksp Biol Med 1092 1990: 119-21 Print
  23. ^ Alfimova, M V, & Uvarova, L G 2007 Changes in the EEG spectral power during perception of neutral and emotionally salient words in schizophrenic patients, their relatives and healthy individuals from general population Article Zhurnal Vysshei Nervnoi Deyatelnosti Imeni I P Pavlova, 574, 426-436
  24. ^ Sekimoto, M, et al, Cortical regional differences of delta waves during all-night sleep in schizophrenia, Schizophr Res 2010, doi:101016/jschres201011003
  25. ^ Abdelkarim, T H, Westin, T, Romaker, A, & Girish, M 2002 Presence of delta waves in REM sleep during polysomnography as a sign of acute hypoglycemic encephalopathy Meeting Abstract Sleep, 25, 531
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  28. ^ Nezu, Arthur M , Christine Maguth Nezu, Pamela A Geller, and Irving B Weiner Handbook of Psychology New York: Wiley, 2003 Print
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  33. ^ Lopes, MC, Guilleminault, C, Rosa, A, Passarelli, C, Roizenblatt, S, Tufik, S Delta sleep instability in children with chronic arthritis Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 2008;4110: 938-43
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  38. ^ Foldvary-Schaefer, N, I De Leon Sanchez, M Karafa, D Dinner, and H H Morris "Gabapentin Increases Slow-wave Sleep in Normal Adults" Epilepsia 4312 2002: 1493-497 Print
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