Evidence that the sleep-wake rhythm is generated endogenously has been provided by studies employing a variety of experimental paradigms such as sleep deprivation, sleep displacement, isolating subjects in environments free of time cues, or imposing on subjects sleep-wake schedules widely deviating from 24 hours. The initial observations obtained in isolated subjects revealed that the period of the endogenous circadian pacemaker regulating sleep is of approximately 25 hours. More recent studies, however, in which a more rigorous control of subjects' behavior was exerted, particularly over lighting conditions, have shown that the true periodicity of the endogenous pacemaker deviates from 24 hours by a few minutes only. Besides sleep propensity, the circadian pacemaker has been shown to regulate sleep consolidation, sleep stage structure, and electroencephalographic activities. The pattern of light exposure throughout the 24 hours appears to participate in the entrainment of the circadian pacemaker to the geophysical day-night cycle. Melatonin, the pineal hormone produced during the dark hours, participates in communicating both between the environmental light-dark cycle and the circadian pacemaker, and between the circadian pacemaker and the sleep-wake-generating mechanism. In contrast to prevailing views that have placed great emphasis on homeostatic sleep drive, recent data have revealed a potent circadian cycle in the drive for wakefulness, which is generated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This drive reaches a peak during the evening hours just before habitual bedtime.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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