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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Daily rhythms of the sleep-wake cycle

Jim Waterhouse1*, Yumi Fukuda2 and Takeshi Morita2

Author Affiliations

1 Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Physiology, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK

2 Department of Living Environmental Science, Fukuoka Women's University, Japan

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Journal of Physiological Anthropology 2012, 31:5  doi:10.1186/1880-6805-31-5

Published: 13 March 2012

Abstract

The amount and timing of sleep and sleep architecture (sleep stages) are determined by several factors, important among which are the environment, circadian rhythms and time awake. Separating the roles played by these factors requires specific protocols, including the constant routine and altered sleep-wake schedules. Results from such protocols have led to the discovery of the factors that determine the amounts and distribution of slow wave and rapid eye movement sleep as well as to the development of models to determine the amount and timing of sleep. One successful model postulates two processes. The first is process S, which is due to sleep pressure (and increases with time awake) and is attributed to a 'sleep homeostat'. Process S reverses during slow wave sleep (when it is called process S'). The second is process C, which shows a daily rhythm that is parallel to the rhythm of core temperature. Processes S and C combine approximately additively to determine the times of sleep onset and waking. The model has proved useful in describing normal sleep in adults. Current work aims to identify the detailed nature of processes S and C. The model can also be applied to circumstances when the sleep-wake cycle is different from the norm in some way. These circumstances include: those who are poor sleepers or short sleepers; the role an individual's chronotype (a measure of how the timing of the individual's preferred sleep-wake cycle compares with the average for a population); and changes in the sleep-wake cycle with age, particularly in adolescence and aging, since individuals tend to prefer to go to sleep later during adolescence and earlier in old age. In all circumstances, the evidence that sleep times and architecture are altered and the possible causes of these changes (including altered S, S' and C processes) are examined.

Keywords:
Adolescence; chronotype; circadian rhythm; endogenous component; exogenous component; old age; sleep homeostat; time awake