The Regulation of Human Sleep and Wakefulness

Derk-Jan Dijk and Alpar S. Lazar

in The Oxford Handbook of Sleep and Sleep Disorders

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780195376203
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

The Regulation of Human Sleep and Wakefulness

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  • Clinical Psychology



The alternation of sleep and wakefulness is a major determinant of the structure and quality of our lives. The sleep–wake cycle is regulated by a fine-tuned balance between two physiological processes: sleep homeostasis, which measures sleep debt, and circadian rhythmicity, which determines the optimal internal (biological) time for sleep and wakefulness. Sleep homeostasis and circadian rhythmicity together influence many aspects of sleep, such as the time it takes to fall asleep, the timing of awakening and the interruptions of sleep, as well as the duration of rapid eye movement sleep, slow-wave sleep and specific brainwaves during sleep, such as sleep spindles. Alterations in the balance between sleep homeostasis and circadian rhythmicity contribute to sleep phenotypes such as morningness-eveningness and short-long sleepers as well as sleep disturbances. Emerging insights into the environmental, behavioral, physiological, neurochemical and molecular-genetic determinants of sleep homeostasis and circadian rhythmicity provide new avenues for the understanding and improvement of the sleep–wake cycle.

Keywords: sleep physiology; circadian rhythmicity; sleep homeostasis; slow-wave sleep; REM sleep; sleep spindles; sleep deprivation; individual differences; genes; polymorphisms; melatonin; light; photoreception; chronotypes

Article.  19027 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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