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Sleep is associated with a state of muscle relaxation and reduced perception of environmental stimuli.

Sleep is a naturally recurring state of mind and body characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles, and reduced interactions with surroundings.[1] It is distinguished from wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, but is more easily reversed than the state of being comatose. Sleep occurs in repeating periods, in which the body alternates between two highly distinct modes known as non-REM and REM sleep. Although REM stands for "rapid eye movement", sleep affects other brain-body functions, including virtual paralysis of the body. A well-known feature of sleep is the dream, an experience typically recounted in narrative form, which resembles waking life while in progress, but which usually can later be distinguished as fantasy. Sleep is sometimes confused with unconsciousness, but is quite different in terms of the thought process.

During sleep, most systems are in an anabolic state, helping to restore the immune, nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems; these are vital processes that maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance and plays a large role in the function of the endocrine and immune systems. [2] The internal circadian clock promotes sleep daily at night. The diverse purposes and mechanisms of sleep are the subject of substantial ongoing research.[3] Research in the 21st century is investigating whether sleep is a period of maintenance for removing metabolic waste compounds from the brain.[4] In the last century, artificial light has substantially altered sleep timing in industrialized countries.[5]

Humans may suffer from various sleep disorders, including



An artist's creative illustration depicting REM sleep.

Key physiological indicators in sleep include EEG of brain waves, electrooculography (EOG) of eye movements, and electromyography (EMG) of skeletal muscle activity. Simultaneous collection of these measurements is called polysomnography, and can be performed in a specialized sleep laboratory.[6]

Sleep increases the sensory threshold. In other words, sleeping persons perceive fewer stimuli. However, they can generally still respond to loud noises and other salient sensory events.[7]

Non-REM and REM sleepEdit

Sleep is divided into two broad types: rapid eye movement (REM sleep) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM or NREM sleep). REM and non-REM sleep are so different that physiologists classify them as distinct behavioral states. Dreams (or nightmares) occur during REM sleep. REM sleep is associated with desynchronized and fast brain waves, loss of muscle tone,[1] and suspension of homeostasis.[8] NREM is considered to be deep sleep (the deepest part of NREM is called slow wave sleep); it shows no prominent eye movement or muscle paralysis.


Sleep occurs in cycles of approximately 90 minutes. This rhythm is called the ultradian sleep cycle.[9] Sleep proceeds in cycles of NREM and REM, normally in that order and usually four or five such cycles per night. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) divides NREM into three stages: N1, N2, and N3, the last of which is also called delta sleep or slow-wave sleep.[10] The whole period normally proceeds in the order: N1 → N2 → N3 → N2 → REM. REM sleep occurs as a person returns to stage 2 or 1 from a deep sleep.[1] An adult reaches REM approximately every 90 minutes; REM sleep usually lasts for longer during latter half of sleep than in the early part of the sleep episode. There is a greater amount of deep sleep (stage N3) earlier in the night, while the proportion of REM sleep increases in the two cycles just before natural awakening.


Awakening can mean the end of sleep, or simply a moment to survey the environment and readjust body position before falling back asleep. Sleepers typically awaken from slow-wave sleep, soon after the end of a REM phase or sometimes in the middle of REM. Internal circadian indicators, along with successful reduction of homeostatic sleep need, typically bring about awakening and the end of the sleep episode.[11]

Today, many humans wake up with an alarm clock.[12] (Some people, however, can reliably wake themselves up at a specific time with no need for an alarm.)[11] Many sleep quite differently on workdays versus days off, a pattern which can lead to chronic circadian desynchronization.[13][12] Many people regularly look at television and other screens before going to bed, a factor which may exacerbate this mass circadian disruption.[14]

Awakening involves heightened electrical activation in the brain, beginning with the thalamus and spreading throughout the cortex.[11]

During a night's sleep, a small portion is usually spent in a waking state. As measured by electroencephalography, young females are awake for 0–1% of the larger sleeping period; young males are awake for 0–2%. In adults, wakefulness increases, especially in later cycles. One study found 3% awake time in the first ninety-minute sleep cycle, 8% in the second, 10% in the third, 12% in the fourth, and 13–14% in the fifth. Most of this awake time occurred shortly after REM sleep.[11]

Scientific studies on sleep have shown that sleep stage at awakening is an important factor in amplifying sleep inertia.[15] Alarm clocks involving sleep stage monitoring appeared on the market in 2005.[16] Using sensing technologies such as EEG electrodes or accelerometers, these alarm clocks are supposed to wake people only from light sleep.


Sleep timing is controlled by the circadian clock, sleep-wake homeostasis, and in humans, within certain bounds, willed behavior. Among sleep researchers, circadian and homeostatic pressures for sleep or wakefulness are sometimes referred to respectively as process C and process S.

Circadian clockEdit

The human "biological clock"

The circadian clock—an inner timekeeping, temperature-fluctuating, enzyme-controlling device—works in tandem with these other mechanisms. Circadian timing, known as is cyclical, based on the time of day; sleep-wake homeostasis, or process S, operates on a more absolute scale. The circadian process is thought to counteract the homeostatic drive for sleep during the day (in diurnal animals) and to augment it at night.[17][13]

Biologically, the most important human circadian clock currently known to science is a dense cluster of neurons in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a part of the brain directly above the optic chiasm, where it receives retinohypothalamic tract projections from specialized ganglion cells that synchronize it with the light dark cycle. This clock measures the time of day, primarily based on input from outside light signals. An organism whose circadian clock exhibits a regular rhythm corresponding to outside signals is said to be entrained; the rhythm so established persists even if the outside signals suddenly disappear. If you take an entrained human and put them in a bunker with constant light (or darkness), they will continue to experience rhythmic increases and decreases of body temperature and melatonin, on a period which slightly exceeds 24 hours. Scientists refer to such conditions as free-running of the circadian rhythm. (Under natural conditions, light signals regularly adjust this period downward, so that it corresponds better with the exact 24 hours of an Earth day.)[12][18][19] The SCN has the ability to synchronize the intrinsic time keeping capabilities of other tissue, contradictory to the previously accepted consensus in the field that the SCN was the only rhythmic tissue. The SCN creates the rhythmic pattern through a feedback loop of protein transcription. The cycle involves two phases, the transcription of the Period (gene) and the Cryptochrome gene initiated by CLOCK, ARNTL, and NPAS2. The accumulation of PER and CRY result in the inhibition of CLOCK, ARNTL and NPAS2, where over 24 hours the decay of PER/CRY inhibition results in the reinitiating of the cycle. Light entrainment occurs through retinohypothalamic tract induced expression of PER.[20]

The clock exerts constant influence on the body, effecting continuous sinusoidal oscillation of body temperature between roughly 36.2 °C and 37.2 °C.[19][21] The suprachiasmatic nucleus itself shows conspicuous oscillation activity, which intensifies during subjective day (i.e., the part of the rhythm corresponding with daytime, whether accurately or not) and drops to almost nothing during subjective night.[22] The circadian pacemaker in the suprachiasmatic nucleus has a direct neural connection to the pineal gland, which releases the hormone melatonin at night.[22] Melatonin is an important circadian indicator but its mechanisms of action are not well understood. Cortisol levels typically rise throughout the night, peak in the awakening hours, and diminish during the day.[23][24] Circadian prolactin secretion begins in the late afternoon, especially in women, and is subsequently augmented by sleep-induced secretion, to peak in the middle of the night. Circadian rhythm exerts some influence on the nighttime secretion of growth hormone.[23]

The circadian rhythm influences the ideal timing of a restorative sleep episode.[12][25] Sleepiness increases during the night. REM sleep occurs more during the low part (i.e., near body temperature minimum) of the circadian cycle, whereas slow-wave sleep occurs relatively independently of circadian time.[19]

The internal circadian clock is profoundly influenced by changes in light, since these are its main clues about what time it is. Exposure to even small amounts of light during the night can suppress melatonin secretion, increase body temperature, and increase cognitive ability. Short pulses of light, at the right moment in the circadian cycle, can significantly 'reset' the internal clock.[21] Blue light, in particular, exerts the strongest effect,[13] leading to concerns that electronic media use before bed may interfere with sleep.

Modern humans often find themselves desynchronized from their internal circadian clock, due to the requirements of work (especially night shifts), long-distance travel, and the influence of widespread indoor lighting.[19] Even if they have sleep debt, or feel sleepy, people can have difficulty staying asleep at the peak of their circadian cycle. Conversely they can have difficulty waking up in the trough of the cycle.[11] A healthy young adult entrained to the sun will (during most of the year) fall asleep a few hours after sunset, experience body temperature minimum at 6AM, and wake up a few hours after sunrise.[19]

Process SEdit

Generally speaking, the longer an organism is awake, the more it feels a need to sleep, and this driver of sleep is called Process S. The balance between sleeping and waking is regulated by a process called homeostasis. Induced or perceived lack of sleep is commonly called sleep deprivation.

Process S is driven by the depletion of glycogen and accumulation of adenosine in the forebrain that disinhibits the Ventrolateral preoptic nucleus, allowing for inhibition of the ascending reticular activating system.[26]

Sleep deprivation tends to cause slower brain waves in the frontal cortex, shortened attention span, higher anxiety, impaired memory, and a grouchy mood. Conversely, a well-rested organism tends to have improved memory and mood.[27]

In humans, sleep deprivation has been studied up to 11 days, during which subjects are more likely to gain weight.[citation needed]

Sleep debt is the effect of not getting enough sleep; a large debt causes fatigue, both mental and physical.

Sleep debt results in diminished abilities to perform high-level cognitive functions. Neurophysiological and functional imaging studies have demonstrated that frontal regions of the brain are particularly responsive to homeostatic sleep pressure.[28]

Scientists do not agree on how much sleep debt it is possible to accumulate; whether it is accumulated against an individual's average sleep or some other benchmark; nor on whether the prevalence of sleep debt among adults has changed appreciably in the industrialized world in recent decades. Sleep debt does show some evidence of being cumulative. Subjectively, however, humans seem to reach maximum sleepiness after 30 hours of waking.[19]

It is likely that children are sleeping less than previously in Western societies.[29]

One neurochemical indicator of sleep debt is adenosine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits many of the bodily processes associated with wakefulness. Adenosine levels increase in the cortex and basal forebrain during prolonged wakefulness and decrease during the sleep-recovery period, potentially acting as a homeostatic regulator of sleep.[30][31] Coffee and caffeine temporarily block the effect of adenosine, prolong sleep latency, and reduce total sleep time and quality.[32]


Homeostatic sleep propensity (the need for sleep as a function of the amount of time elapsed since the last adequate sleep episode) must be balanced against the circadian element for satisfactory sleep.[33] Along with corresponding messages from the circadian clock, this tells the body it needs to sleep.[34] Sleep offset (awakening) is primarily determined by circadian rhythm. A person who regularly awakens at an early hour will generally not be able to sleep much later than his or her normal waking time, even if moderately sleep-deprived[citation needed].

Adult humansEdit

The main health effects of sleep deprivation,[35] indicating impairment of normal maintenance by sleep.

The optimal amount of sleep is not a meaningful concept unless the timing of that sleep is seen in relation to an individual's circadian rhythms. A person's major sleep episode is relatively inefficient and inadequate when it occurs at the "wrong" time of day; one should be asleep at least six hours before the lowest body temperature.[36] The timing is correct when the following two circadian markers occur after the middle of the sleep episode and before awakening:[37] maximum concentration of the hormone melatonin, and minimum core body temperature.

Human sleep needs vary by age and amongst individuals, and sleep is considered to be adequate when there is no daytime sleepiness or dysfunction. Moreover, self-reported sleep duration is only moderately correlated with actual sleep time as measured by actigraphy,[38] and those affected with sleep state misperception may typically report having slept only four hours despite having slept a full eight hours.[39]

A University of California, San Diego psychiatry study of more than one million adults found that people who live the longest self-report sleeping for six to seven hours each night.[40] Another study of sleep duration and mortality risk in women showed similar results.[41] Other studies[which?] show that "sleeping more than 7 to 8 hours per day has been consistently associated with increased mortality," though this study suggests the cause is probably other factors such as depression and socioeconomic status, which would correlate statistically.[42]

Researchers at the University of Warwick and University College London have found that lack of sleep can more than double the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, but that too much sleep can also be associated with a doubling of the risk of death, though not primarily from cardiovascular disease.[43]

Professor Francesco Cappuccio said, "Short sleep has been shown to be a risk factor for weight gain, hypertension, and Type 2 diabetes, sometimes leading to mortality; but in contrast to the short sleep-mortality association, it appears that no potential mechanisms by which long sleep could be associated with increased mortality have yet been investigated. Some candidate causes for this include depression, low socioeconomic status, and cancer-related fatigue... In terms of prevention, our findings indicate that consistently sleeping around seven hours per night is optimal for health, and a sustained reduction may predispose to ill health."[clarification needed]

Nevertheless, some new studies have identified links between too little or too much sleep with metabolic disorders such as obesity and type2 diabetes. There was a strong genetic correlation between under sleeping and BMI (Body mass index), but not type2 diabetes. There was also a genetic correlation between oversleeping and both BMI and type2 diabetes. However, cause-and-effect is not easily determined, because of multiple confounding factors affecting sleep patterns and disease risk.[44][45][46]

Furthermore, sleep difficulties are closely associated with psychiatric disorders such as depression, alcoholism, and bipolar disorder.[47] Up to 90% of adults with depression are found to have sleep difficulties. Dysregulation found on EEG includes disturbances in sleep continuity, decreased delta sleep and altered REM patterns with regard to latency, distribution across the night and density of eye movements.[48]


By the time infants reach the age of two, their brain size has reached 90 percent of an adult-sized brain;[49] a majority of this brain growth has occurred during the period of life with the highest rate of sleep. The hours that children spend asleep influence their ability to perform on cognitive tasks.[50][51] Children who sleep through the night and have few night waking episodes have higher cognitive attainments and easier temperaments than other children.[51][52][53]

Sleep also influences language development. To test this, researchers taught infants a faux language and observed their recollection of the rules for that language.[54] Infants who slept within four hours of learning the language could remember the language rules better, while infants who stayed awake longer did not recall those rules as well. There is also a relationship between infants' vocabulary and sleeping: infants who sleep longer at night at 12 months have better vocabularies at 26 months.[53]


Children need many hours of sleep per day in order to develop and function properly: up to 18 hours for newborn babies, with a declining rate as a child ages.[34] Early in 2015, after a two-year study,[55] the National Sleep Foundation in the US announced newly revised recommendations as shown in the table below.

Age and condition Sleep Needs
Newborns (0–3 months) 14 to 17 hours[55]
Infants (4–11 months) 12 to 15 hours[55]
Toddlers (1–2 years) 11 to 14 hours[55]
Preschoolers (3–4 years) 10 to 13 hours[55]
School-age children (5–12 years)       9 to 11 hours[55]
Teenagers (13–17 years)   8 to 10 hours[55][56]
Adults (18–64 years)   7 to 9 hours[55]
Older Adults (65 years and over)   7 to 8 hours[55][57]

Social timingEdit

Humans are also influenced by aspects of social time: the hours when other people are awake, the hours when work is required, the time on the clock, etc. Time zones, standard times used to unify the timing for people in the same area, correspond only approximately to the natural rising and setting of the sun. The approximate nature of the timezone can be shown with China, a country which used to span five time zones and now uses only one (UTC +8).[12]


In polyphasic sleep, an organism sleeps at multiple times during a 24-hour cycle. Monophasic sleep occurs all at once. Under experimental conditions, humans tend to alternate more frequently between sleep and wakefulness (i.e., exhibit more polyphasic sleep) if they have nothing better to do.[19] Given a 14-hour period of darkness in experimental conditions, humans tended towards bimodal sleep, with two sleep periods concentrated at the beginning and at the end of the dark time. Bimodal sleep in humans was more common before the industrial revolution.[24]

Different characteristic sleep patterns, such as the familiarly so-called "early bird" and "night owl", are called chronotypes. Genetics and sex have some influence on chronotype, but so do habits. Chronotype is also liable to change over the course of a person's lifetime. Seven-year-olds are better disposed to wake up early in the morning than are fifteen-year-olds.[13][12] Chronotypes far outside the normal range are called circadian rhythm sleep disorders.[58]


The siesta habit has recently been associated with a 37% lower coronary mortality, possibly due to reduced cardiovascular stress mediated by daytime sleep.[59] Short naps at mid-day and mild evening exercise were found to be effective for improved sleep, cognitive tasks, and mental health in elderly people.[60]


It is hypothesized that a considerable amount of sleep-related behavior, such as when and how long a person needs to sleep, is regulated by genetics. Researchers have discovered some evidence that seems to support this assumption.[61] Monozygotic (identical) but not dizygotic (fraternal) twins tend to have similar sleep habits. Neurotransmitters, molecules whose production can be traced to specific genes, are one genetic influence on sleep which can be analyzed. And the circadian clock has its own set of genes.[62] ABCC9 is one gene found which influences the duration of human sleep.[63]

Sleep duration is affected by the gene DEC2. People with a certain DEC2 mutation sleep two hours less than normal. The gene also affects the sleep patterns of mice, and likely does so for all mammals.[64][65]

Recent studies show three genetic variants associated with sleep duration: the most strongly associated variant occurs near PAX 8, with an average of 2.6 minute per allele change in sleep duration; a variant located downstream of VRK2 ( vaccinia related Kinase 2) gene, that has an average per allele effect of 2.0 minutes on sleep duration; and a variant located upstream of VRK2 gene, that has an average per allele effect of 1.6 minutes on sleep duration.[44]


The quality of sleep may be evaluated from an objective and a subjective point of view. Objective sleep quality refers to how difficult it is for a person to fall asleep and remain in a sleeping state, and how many times they wake up during a single night. Poor sleep quality disrupts the cycle of transition between the different stages of sleep.[66] Subjective sleep quality in turn refers to a sense of being rested and regenerated after awaking from sleep. A study by A. Harvey et al. (2002) found that insomniacs were more demanding in their evaluations of sleep quality than individuals who had no sleep problems.[67]

Functions of sleepEdit

Memory processingEdit

Scientists have shown numerous ways in which sleep is related to memory. In a study conducted by Turner, Drummond, Salamat, and Brown (2007), working memory was shown to be affected by sleep deprivation. Working memory is important because it keeps information active for further processing and supports higher-level cognitive functions such as decision making, reasoning, and episodic memory. The study allowed 18 women and 22 men to sleep only 26 minutes per night over a four-day period. Subjects were given initial cognitive tests while well-rested, and then were tested again twice a day during the four days of sleep deprivation. On the final test, the average working memory span of the sleep-deprived group had dropped by 38% in comparison to the control group.[68]

The relation between working memory and sleep can also be explored by testing how working memory works during sleep. Daltrozzo, Claude, Tillmann, Bastuji, and Perrin,[69] using Event-Related Potentials to the perception of sentences during sleep showed that working memory for linguistic information is partially preserved during sleep with a smaller capacity compared to wake.

Memory seems to be affected differently by certain stages of sleep such as REM and slow-wave sleep (SWS). In one study, multiple groups of human subjects were used: wake control groups and sleep test groups. Sleep and wake groups were taught a task and were then tested on it, both on early and late nights, with the order of nights balanced across participants. When the subjects' brains were scanned during sleep, hypnograms revealed that SWS was the dominant sleep stage during the early night, representing around 23% on average for sleep stage activity. The early-night test group performed 16% better on the declarative memory test than the control group. During late-night sleep, which entails more time spent in REM, test group performed 25% better on the procedural memory test than the control group. This suggests that procedural memory benefits from late, REM-rich sleep, whereas declarative memory benefits from early, slow wave-rich sleep.[70]

A study has also been done involving direct current stimulation to the prefrontal cortex to increase the amount of slow oscillations during SWS. The direct current stimulation greatly enhanced word-pair retention the following day, giving evidence that SWS plays a large role in the consolidation of episodic memories.[71]

The different studies suggest that there is a correlation between sleep and the complex functions of memory. Harvard sleep researchers Saper[72] and Stickgold[73] point out that an essential part of memory and learning consists of nerve cell dendrites' sending of information to the cell body to be organized into new neuronal connections. This process demands that no external information is presented to these dendrites, and it is suggested that this may be why it is during sleep that memories and knowledge are solidified and organized.

Recent studies examining gene expression and evolutionary increases in brain size offer complimentary support for the role of sleep in the mammalian memory consolidation theory. Evolutionary advances in the size of the mammalian amygdala, (a brain structure active during sleep and involved in memory processing), are also associated with increases in NREM sleep durations.[74] Likewise, nighttime gene expression differs from daytime expression and specifically targets genes thought to be involved in memory consolidation and brain plasticity.[75]


Bronze statue of Eros sleeping, 3rd century BC–early 1st century AD

During sleep, especially REM sleep, people tend to have dreams: elusive first-person experiences, which, despite their frequently bizarre qualities, seem realistic while in progress. Dreams can seamlessly incorporate elements within a person's mind that would not normally go together. They can include apparent sensations of all types, especially vision and movement.[76]

Dreams can also be suppressed or encouraged; using anti-depressants, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or alcoholic beverages is thought to potentially suppress dreams, whereas melatonin may have the ability to encourage them.[77]

People have proposed many hypotheses about the functions of dreaming. Sigmund Freud postulated that dreams are the symbolic expression of frustrated desires that have been relegated to the unconscious mind, and he used dream interpretation in the form of psychoanalysis in attempting to uncover these desires.[78]

Freud's work concerns the psychological role of dreams, which does not exclude any physiological role they may have. Recent research claims that sleep has the overall role of consolidation and organization of synaptic connections formed during learning and experience.[79] As such, Freud's work is not ruled out. Nevertheless, Freud's research has been expanded on, especially with regard to the organization and consolidation of recent memory.

While penile erections during sleep are commonly believed to indicate dreams with sexual content, they are not more frequent during sexual dreams than they are during nonsexual dreams.[80] The parasympathetic nervous system experiences increased activity during REM sleep which may cause erection of the penis or clitoris. In males, 80% to 95% of REM sleep is normally accompanied by partial to full penile erection, while only about 12% of men's dreams contain sexual content.[81]

John Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley propose that dreams are caused by the random firing of neurons in the cerebral cortex during the REM period. Neatly, this theory helps explain the irrationality of the mind during REM periods, as, according to this theory, the forebrain then creates a story in an attempt to reconcile and make sense of the nonsensical sensory information presented to it. This would explain the odd nature of many dreams.[82]



Insomnia, a dyssomnia, is a general term describing difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Insomnia is the most common sleep problem, with many adults reporting occasional insomnia, and 10–15% reporting a chronic condition.[83] Insomnia can have many different causes, including psychological stress, a poor sleep environment, an inconsistent sleep schedule, or excessive mental or physical stimulation in the hours before bedtime. Insomnia is often treated through behavioral changes like keeping a regular sleep schedule, avoiding stimulating or stressful activities before bedtime, and cutting down on stimulants such as caffeine. The sleep environment may be improved by installing heavy drapes to shut out all sunlight, and keeping computers, televisions and work materials out of the sleeping area.

A 2010 review of published scientific research suggested that exercise generally improves sleep for most people, and helps sleep disorders such as insomnia. The optimum time to exercise may be 4 to 8 hours before bedtime, though exercise at any time of day is beneficial, with the exception of heavy exercise taken shortly before bedtime, which may disturb sleep. However, there is insufficient evidence to draw detailed conclusions about the relationship between exercise and sleep.[84] Sleeping medications such as Ambien and Lunesta are an increasingly popular treatment for insomnia. Although these nonbenzodiazepine medications are generally believed to be better and safer than earlier generations of sedatives, they have still generated some controversy and discussion regarding side-effects. White noise appears to be a promising treatment for insomnia.[85]

Obstructive sleep apneaEdit

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which major pauses in breathing occur during sleep, disrupting the normal progression of sleep and often causing other more severe health problems. Apneas occur when the muscles around the patient's airway relax during sleep, causing the airway to collapse and block the intake of oxygen.[86] Obstructive sleep apnea is more common than central sleep apnea.[87] As oxygen levels in the blood drop, the patient then comes out of deep sleep in order to resume breathing. When several of these episodes occur per hour, sleep apnea rises to a level of seriousness that may require treatment.

Diagnosing sleep apnea usually requires a professional sleep study performed in a sleep clinic, because the episodes of wakefulness caused by the disorder are extremely brief and patients usually do not remember experiencing them. Instead, many patients simply feel tired after getting several hours of sleep and have no idea why. Major risk factors for sleep apnea include chronic fatigue, old age, obesity and snoring.

Other disordersEdit

Sleep disorders include narcolepsy, periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), restless leg syndrome (RLS), upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), and the circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Fatal familial insomnia, or FFI, an extremely rare genetic disease with no known treatment or cure, is characterized by increasing insomnia as one of its symptoms; ultimately sufferers of the disease stop sleeping entirely, before dying of the disease.[88]

Somnambulism, known as sleep walking, is also a common sleeping disorder, especially among children. In somnambulism the individual gets up from his/her sleep and wanders around while still sleeping.[89]

Older people may be more easily awakened by disturbances in the environment[90] and may to some degree lose the ability to consolidate sleep.

Effect of food and drugs on sleepEdit


  • Nonbenzodiazepine hypnotics such as eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), and zolpidem (Ambien) are commonly used as sleep aids prescribed by doctors to treat forms of insomnia. Nonbenzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed and over-the-counter sleep aids used worldwide and have been greatly growing in use since the 1990s. They target the GABAA receptor.
  • Benzodiazepines target the GABAA receptor also, and as such, they are commonly used sleep aids as well, though benzodiazepines have been found to decrease REM sleep.[91]
  • Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and doxylamine (found in various OTC medicines, such as NyQuil)
  • Alcohol (ethanol) – Often, people start drinking alcohol in order to get to sleep (alcohol is initially a sedative and will cause somnolence, encouraging sleep). However, being addicted to alcohol can lead to disrupted sleep, because alcohol has a rebound effect later in the night. As a result, there is strong evidence linking alcoholism and forms of insomnia.[92] Alcohol also reduces REM sleep.[91]
  • Barbiturates cause drowsiness and have actions similar to alcohol in that they have a rebound effect and inhibit REM sleep, so they are not used as a long-term sleep aid.
  • Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that regulates sleepiness. It is made in the brain, where tryptophan is converted into serotonin and then into melatonin, which is released at night by the pineal gland to induce and maintain sleep. Melatonin supplementation may be used as a sleep aid, both as a hypnotic and as a chronobiotic (see phase response curve, PRC).[93]
  • Siesta and the "post-lunch dip" – Many people have a temporary drop in alertness in the early afternoon, commonly known as the "post-lunch dip." While a large meal can make a person feel sleepy, the post-lunch dip is mostly an effect of the circadian clock. People naturally feel most sleepy at two times of the day about 12 hours apart—for example, at 2:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. At those two times, the body clock "kicks in." At about 2 p.m. (14:00), it overrides the homeostatic buildup of sleep debt, allowing several more hours of wakefulness. At about 2 a.m. (02:00), with the daily sleep debt paid off, it "kicks in" again to ensure a few more hours of sleep.
  • Tryptophan – The amino acid tryptophan is a building block of proteins. It has been claimed to contribute to sleepiness, since it is a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin, involved in sleep regulation. However, no solid data have ever linked modest dietary changes in tryptophan to changes in sleep.
  • Cannabis – Some people use cannabis to induce sleepiness. Users often report relaxation and drowsiness. It has been shown that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent in cannabis, reduces the amount of REM sleep.[94] Frequent users often report being unable to recall their dreams.


  • Amphetamine (dextroamphetamine, and a related, slightly more powerful drug methamphetamine, etc.) are used to treat narcolepsy. Their most common effects are anxiety, insomnia, stimulation, increased alertness, and decreased hunger.
  • Caffeine is a stimulant that works by slowing the action of the hormones in the brain that cause somnolence, particularly by acting as an antagonist at adenosine receptors. Effective dosage is individual, in part dependent on prior usage. It can cause a rapid reduction in alertness as it wears off.
  • Cocaine and crack cocaine – Studies on cocaine have shown its effects to be mediated through the circadian rhythm system.[95] This may be related to the onset of hypersomnia (oversleeping) in regard to "cocaine-induced sleep disorder."[96]
  • MDMA, including similar drugs like MDA, MMDA, or bk-MDMA – The class of drugs called empathogen-entactogens keep users awake with intense euphoria.
  • Methylphenidate – Commonly known by the brand names Ritalin and Concerta, methylphenidate is similar in action to amphetamine and cocaine; its chemical composition more closely resembles that of cocaine.
  • Other analeptic drugs like Modafinil and Armodafinil are prescribed to treat narcolepsy, idiopathic hypersomnia, shift work sleep disorder, and other conditions causing excessive daytime sleepiness. The precise mechanism of these central nervous system (CNS) stimulants is not known, but they have been shown to increase both the release of monoamines and levels of hypothalamic histamine, thereby promoting wakefulness.

Nutritional effects on sleepEdit

Dietary and nutritional choices affect sleep duration and quality. Research is being conducted in an attempt to discover what kinds of nutritional choices result in better sleep quality.

A study in the Western Journal of Nursing Research in 2011[97] compared how sleep quality was affected by four different diets: a high-protein diet, a high-fat diet, a high-carbohydrate diet, and a control diet. Results indicated that the diets high in protein resulted in fewer wakeful episodes during night-time sleep. The high carbohydrate diet was linked to much shorter periods of quiescent or restful sleep. These results suggest that ingested nutrients do play a role in determining sleep quality. Another investigation published in Nutrition Research in 2012[98] examined the effects of various combinations of dietary choices in regard to sleep. Although it is difficult to determine one perfect diet for sleep enhancement, this study indicated that a variety of micro and macro nutrients are needed to maintain levels of healthful and restful sleep. A varied diet containing fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat proteins, and whole grains can be the best nutritional option for individuals seeking to improve the quality of their sleep.

In cultureEdit


Research suggests that sleep patterns vary significantly across cultures.[99][100] The most striking differences are between societies that have plentiful sources of artificial light and ones that do not.[99] The primary difference appears to be that pre-light cultures have more broken-up sleep patterns.[99] For example, people without artificial light might go to sleep far sooner after the sun sets, but then wake up several times throughout the night, punctuating their sleep with periods of wakefulness, perhaps lasting several hours.[99]

The boundaries between sleeping and waking are blurred in these societies.[99] Some observers believe that nighttime sleep in these societies is most often split into two main periods, the first characterized primarily by deep sleep and the second by REM sleep.[99]

Some societies display a fragmented sleep pattern in which people sleep at all times of the day and night for shorter periods. In many nomadic or hunter-gatherer societies, people will sleep on and off throughout the day or night depending on what is happening.[99] Plentiful artificial light has been available in the industrialized West since at least the mid-19th century, and sleep patterns have changed significantly everywhere that lighting has been introduced.[99] In general, people sleep in a more concentrated burst through the night, going to sleep much later, although this is not always true.[99]

Historian Roger Ekirch thinks that the traditional pattern of "segmented sleep," as it is called, began to disappear among the urban upper class in Europe in the late 17th century and the change spread over the next 200 years; by the 1920s "the idea of a first and second sleep had receded entirely from our social consciousness."[101][102] Ekirch attributes the change to increases in "street lighting, domestic lighting and a surge in coffee houses," which slowly made nighttime a legitimate time for activity, decreasing the time available for rest.[102] Today in most societies people sleep during the night, but in very hot climates they may sleep during the day.[103] During Ramadan, many Muslims sleep during the day rather than at night.[104]

In some societies, people sleep with at least one other person (sometimes many) or with animals. In other cultures, people rarely sleep with anyone except for an intimate partner. In almost all societies, sleeping partners are strongly regulated by social standards. For example, a person might only sleep with the immediate family, the extended family, a spouse or romantic partner, children, children of a certain age, children of specific gender, peers of a certain gender, friends, peers of equal social rank, or with no one at all. Sleep may be an actively social time, depending on the sleep groupings, with no constraints on noise or activity.[99]

People sleep in a variety of locations. Some sleep directly on the ground; others on a skin or blanket; others sleep on platforms or beds. Some sleep with blankets, some with pillows, some with simple headrests, some with no head support. These choices are shaped by a variety of factors, such as climate, protection from predators, housing type, technology, personal preference, and the incidence of pests.[99]


See alsoEdit


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