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Besedovsky, Luciana ORCID: 0000-0001-6053-3245; Cordi, Maren ORCID: 0000-0001-5906-2458; Wißlicen, Laura ORCID: 0000-0002-2841-1157; Martínez-Albert, Estefanía; Born, Jan ORCID: 0000-0002-1847-6248; Rasch, Björn ORCID: 0000-0001-7607-3415 (2022): Hypnotic enhancement of slow-wave sleep increases sleep-associated hormone secretion and reduces sympathetic predominance in healthy humans. Communications Biology, 5: 747. ISSN 2399-3642

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Sleep is important for normal brain and body functioning, and for this, slow-wave sleep (SWS), the deepest stage of sleep, is assumed to be especially relevant. Previous studies employing methods to enhance SWS have focused on central nervous components of this sleep stage. However, SWS is also characterized by specific changes in the body periphery, which are essential mediators of the health-benefitting effects of sleep. Here we show that enhancing SWS in healthy humans using hypnotic suggestions profoundly affects the two major systems linking the brain with peripheral body functions, i.e., the endocrine and the autonomic nervous systems (ANS). Specifically, hypnotic suggestions presented at the beginning of a 90-min afternoon nap to promote subsequent SWS strongly increased the release of growth hormone (GH) and, to a lesser extent, of prolactin and aldosterone, and shifted the sympathovagal balance towards reduced sympathetic predominance. Thus, the hypnotic suggestions induced a whole-body pattern characteristic of natural SWS. Given that the affected parameters regulate fundamental physiological functions like metabolism, cardiovascular activity, and immunity, our findings open up a wide range of potential applications of hypnotic SWS enhancement, in addition to advancing our knowledge on the physiology of human SWS.

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