Spontaneous synchronization over large networks is ubiquitous in nature, ranging from inanimate to biological systems. In the human brain, neuronal synchronization and de-synchronization occur during sleep, with the greatest degree of neuronal synchronization during slow wave sleep (SWS). The current sleep classification schema is based on electroencephalography and provides common criteria for clinicians and researchers to describe stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep as well as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These sleep stage classifications have been based on convenient heuristic criteria, with little consideration of the accompanying normal physiological changes across those same sleep stages. To begin to resolve those inconsistencies, first focusing only on NREM sleep, we propose a simple cluster synchronization model to explain the emergence of SWS in healthy people without sleep disorders. We apply the empirical mode decomposition (EMD) analysis to quantify slow wave activity in electroencephalograms, and provide quantitative evidence to support our model. Based on this synchronization model, NREM sleep can be classified as SWS and non-SWS, such that NREM sleep can be considered as an intrinsically bistable process. Finally, we develop an automated algorithm for SWS classification. We show that this new approach can unify brain wave dynamics and their corresponding physiologic changes.
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