Sleep in patients with disorders of consciousness characterized by means of machine learning

Tomasz Wielek, Julia Lechinger, Malgorzata Wislowska, Christine Blume, Peter Ott, Stefan Wegenkittl, Renata Del Giudice, Dominik P.J. Heib, Helmut A. Mayer, Steven Laureys, Gerald Pichler, Manuel Schabus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sleep has been proposed to indicate preserved residual brain functioning in patients suffering from disorders of consciousness (DOC) after awakening from coma. However, a reliable characterization of sleep patterns in this clinical population continues to be challenging given severely altered brain oscillations, frequent and extended artifacts in clinical recordings and the absence of established staging criteria. In the present study, we try to address these issues and investigate the usefulness of a multivariate machine learning technique based on permutation entropy, a complexity measure. Specifically, we used long-term poly-somnography (PSG), along with video recordings in day and night periods in a sample of 23 DOC; 12 patients were diagnosed as Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome (UWS) and 11 were diagnosed as Minimally Conscious State (MCS). Eight hour PSG recordings of healthy sleepers (N = 26) were additionally used for training and setting parameters of supervised and unsupervised model, respectively. In DOC, the supervised classification (wake, N1, N2, N3 or REM) was validated using simultaneous videos which identified periods with prolonged eye opening or eye closure.The supervised classification revealed that out of the 23 subjects, 11 patients (5 MCS and 6 UWS) yielded highly accurate classification with an average F1-score of 0.87 representing high overlap between the classifier predicting sleep (i.e. one of the 4 sleep stages) and closed eyes. Furthermore, the unsupervised approach revealed a more complex pattern of sleep-wake stages during the night period in the MCS group, as evidenced by the presence of several distinct clusters. In contrast, in UWS patients no such clustering was found. Altogether, we present a novel data-driven method, based on machine learning that can be used to gain new and unambiguous insights into sleep organization and residual brain functioning of patients with DOC.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0190458
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

Fields of Science and Technology Classification 2012

  • 501 Psychology

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