Event Abstract

Sleep, memory, attention and Neurofeedback

  • 1 AAI Scientific Cultural Services Ltd, Laboratory for Human Brain Dynamic, Cyprus

Neurofeedback (NF) is an umbrella term for a wide range of methods that use recordings of ongoing brain electrical activity as a tool for self-regulation of brain function. Some types of NF rely on conscious learning: features of the ongoing EEG are extracted and presented to the subject on a screen who then learns to modify them voluntarily on line. Other types of NF rely on unconscious learning: again features of the ongoing EEG are extracted but they are not shown directly to the subject. Instead, they are used to modify the way some ongoing activity (game) is (dis)played with modifications like sound quality, touch of a toy, clarity of image or responsiveness of manipulanda become more pleasant/attractive when good features are present and unattractive when bad features are identified. The first type of NF are easier to understand and explain to the subject while the second is a little obscure and it often encounters skepticism because the precise mechanisms involved are not so obvious. For either type of NF, what is happening in an actual session is often described as analogous to training the brain directly, just like physical exercise in a session in the gym trains the body. This is a good analogy but it hides the ubiquitous effect of at least some neurofeedback methods to improve apparently very different conditions. It is as if training an athlete with weights, suddenly improves the athletes performance in other disparate athletic activities like100 meter dash and high jump. To professional trainers such improvements are suspect while in medicine, methods that claim to heal everything are considered as fakes. Yet, in both physical exercise and the treatment of disease there are training/treatments that are universally beneficial. For example, absence of exercise is detrimental to health and even a little but regular brisk walking will help keep away many of the major diseases of post-industrial societies. To perform at the top level in any sport requires building up mental and physical stamina, and this is as much true for footballer and basketball players as it is for a chess grandmaster. I propose next that in the case of training the brain, the analogous concept to stamina and fitness is the maintenance of a clear and consistent image of self. A closer examination of the cases where NF has a rather broad positive effect suggests NF is instrumental in a readjustment of basic neural networks that manages the dual representation of an external reality that always changes and an internal image of the self that must maintain its integrity. There are two types of system that dominate this process one dealing with attention and the other with memory. Bottom-up attentional systems alert and evaluate at a sub-conscious level (with the amygdala playing a key role) any sudden intrusion of salient events so by 70 milliseconds a decision is taken whether the new stimuli will be allowed to enter consciousness, further analyzed and related to the current model of the external world or any further processing is overridden for the sake of preparation for imminent fight/flight action. If further processing is deemed safe then the routine attentional system takes over, and usually objects related to the salient new event are studied by fixating successively on them and thus bringing each one in turn to the high resolution scrutiny of the foveal vision. Memory then takes over matching the new event to past experiences. For proper operation at this stage it is necessary that past events are safely tacked away in memory as neutral third person views of past encounters. If an unresolved memory of a dramatic event persists then (m)any sudden and apparently salient events will be automatically related to unresolved first person memory of the event and coloured with its dramatic impact. The view that sleep is critical for memory consolidation is widely accepted today. I propose that during sleep what is most critical is that this memory consolidation process leads to a new version of tomorrow’s self that maintains a clear continuity with the self before sleep. If sleep does not provide this integration then the unresolved memories unduly influence processing the next day leading to many and apparently unrelated symptoms. The patterns of brain activity promoted by many forms of NF are similar to the patterns of brain activity encountered in sleep, but without the complete loss of consciousness. I propose that some of the effects of NF are accomplish through judicious guidance provided during the NF induced stages that are similar to the ones of normal sleep that usually do the job. We already have evidence about how some of these self-maintaining networks operate during sleep and where some of the key nodes in this network are located relative to key nodes of the resting-state and Theory of Mind networks [1]. Thus NF influences the core networks that maintain the integrity of self and the effective resolution of many diverse symptoms is just a collateral (but highly desirable) effect. The study of the basic networks involved during sleep is part of the TopSleep project [2]. As part of the theoretical work for the SmokeFreeBrain [3] project, we are investigating how information about the patterns of activity in the self-maintenance neural systems before, during and after NF can be used for the evaluation of the effectiveness of NF methods in general and for specific NF sessions in a specific individual.


The work reported here is partially supported by the project SmokeFreeBrain of teh EU under the Horizon 2020 program and AAISCS under the project TopSleep that is waiting evaluation at the Cyprus Ministru of Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism.


[1] Ioannides, A.A., Kostopoulos, G.K., Liu, L., Fenwick, P.B.C., 2009. MEG identifies dorsal medial brain activations during sleep. Neuroimage 44, 455–468.
[2] Project TopSleep, supported by AAISCS and submitted to the Cyprus Ministry of Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism.
[3] Project SmokeFreeBrain, Program Horizon 2020, grant agreement number 681120

Keywords: Neurofeedback, EEG biomarkers, Neurofeedback evaluation, self-maintaining neural netwrks, Sleep

Conference: SAN2016 Meeting, Corfu, Greece, 6 Oct - 9 Oct, 2016.

Presentation Type: Oral Presentation in SAN 2016 Conference

Topic: Oral Presentations

Citation: Ioannides A (2016). Sleep, memory, attention and Neurofeedback. Conference Abstract: SAN2016 Meeting. doi: 10.3389/conf.fnhum.2016.220.00016

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Received: 29 Jul 2016; Published Online: 30 Jul 2016.

* Correspondence: Prof. Andreas Ioannides, AAI Scientific Cultural Services Ltd, Laboratory for Human Brain Dynamic, Nicosia, 1065, Cyprus, a.ioannides@aaiscs.com