[en] The neural correlates of the wake-sleep continuum remain incompletely understood, limiting the development of adaptive drug delivery systems for promoting sleep maintenance. The most useful measure for resolving early positions along this continuum is the alpha oscillation, an 8-13 Hz electroencephalographic rhythm prominent over posterior scalp locations. The brain activation signature of wakefulness, alpha expression discloses immediate levels of alertness and dissipates in concert with fading awareness as sleep begins. This brain activity pattern, however, is largely ignored once sleep begins. Here we show that the intensity of spectral power in the alpha band actually continues to disclose instantaneous responsiveness to noise--a measure of sleep depth--throughout a night of sleep. By systematically challenging sleep with realistic and varied acoustic disruption, we found that sleepers exhibited markedly greater sensitivity to sounds during moments of elevated alpha expression. This result demonstrates that alpha power is not a binary marker of the transition between sleep and wakefulness, but carries rich information about immediate sleep stability. Further, it shows that an empirical and ecologically relevant form of sleep depth is revealed in real-time by EEG spectral content in the alpha band, a measure that affords prediction on the order of minutes. This signal, which transcends the boundaries of classical sleep stages, could potentially be used for real-time feedback to novel, adaptive drug delivery systems for inducing sleep.