Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Sleep Wake Cycle

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Sleep Wake Cycle

Do you know how your sleep-wake mechanism works? Our biological clocks are present in every cell, synchronised by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), located in the hypothalamus. Genes produce proteins that continuously increase throughout the night while we sleep but reduce during the day. These fluctuations activate the sleep-wake cycle.

What is the role of the sleep-wake cycle?

The sleep-wake cycle has a recurring pattern, as it oscillates between wakefulness and asleep in a 24-hour clock. On a healthy sleep-wake rhythm, humans spend approximately eight hours sleeping and sixteen hours awake. The role of the sleep-wake cycle is to regulate our sleep at night and keep us awake during the day.

How do biological mechanisms regulate the sleep-wake cycle?

There are internal biological mechanisms responsible for our sleep cycles: circadian rhythms and homeostasis. When people are awake for a long time, the homeostasis sleep pressure sends negative feedback to the body—signalling the need for sleep to reset the energy levels.

Homeostasis maintains the internal bodily environment in constant equilibrium through a series of dynamic interactions in physiological and biochemical systems. The homeostasis mechanism and the circadian rhythms, one of the biological rhythms, work together to determine the sleep-wake cycle.

Circadian rhythms control many of our daily functions, for example, by shifting our physiological temperature and controlling our cognition, core body temperature, metabolism and even hormone production and appetite. They also regulate our sleep-wake cycle to keep a balanced level of energy.

Endogenous pacemakers are internal body clocks that govern biological rhythms such as the sleep-wake cycle. The endogenous pacemaker that regulates the sleep-wake cycle is the SCN which signals the pineal gland to produce or inhibit melatonin (a hormone of the sleep-wake cycle) depending on if there is daylight or not.

Exogenous zeitgebers are environmental events that affect biological rhythms. The most dominant exogenous zeitgeber is light, which influences the sleep-wake cycle.

Have you ever wondered why, on certain weekends do you wake up earlier than you wish? Or what about when you forget to set the alarm clock, but it happens that you wake up just on time! That can occur due to your body’s biological clock (endogenous pacemaker), based on a schedule of around 24-hours (one day) and controls most circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are synchronised with the natural environment (exogenous zeitgeber), but the changes will continue occurring even if the person is isolated from the external environment.

The homeostasis drive increases throughout the day. Usually late in the evening, when most people need to sleep, it reaches maximum capacity. Physical exhaustion, mental work, staying up for long hours, or a low immune system can increase sleep pressure. You can achieve a healthy sleep-wake cycle when the circadian rhythms and homeostatic sleep pressure are synchronised.

Which hormones are involved in the sleep-wake cycle?

The most important exogenous zeitgebers or external influence affecting the internal biological clock is the sunlight. When the SCN senses light through the retina of the eye, it releases chemical signals. Cortisol and neurotransmitters, like norepinephrine and serotonin, are released to keep the brain awake and alert.

Damage to the SCN causes people to sleep erratically throughout the day because their circadian rhythms don’t match with the light-dark cycle. However, most blind people maintain some ability to sense light and are able to modify their sleep-wake cycle.

As the day progresses, a chemical called adenosine accumulates in the bloodstream, signalling the feeling of tiredness. As the daylight shifts to the dark, melatonin levels rise, making you feel sleepy. During sleep, while melatonin hormones rise, adenosine levels decline.

Top tip: do you also feel that your day is incomplete without caffeine? Here is what you need to know about it! Caffeine can confuse the sleep-wake cycle because the adenosine receptor gets blocked by caffeine.

Once the brain is asleep, a cleaning process starts. The glymphatic system clears out proteins present in the brain. The glymphatic system increases its activity during sleep. It could explain why sleep helps heal the body after strokes and traumatic brain injuries. However, more research is needed to support the studies; nowadays, doctors are studying how the glymphatic system relates to dementia and Parkinson’s.

How is melatonin involved in the sleep-wake cycle?

The pineal gland in your brain produces melatonin, which controls your sleep-wake cycle. Your internal biological clock influences the quantity of melatonin produced according to exposure to sunlight. Usually, melatonin levels are more elevated during the mid-to-late evening, after sunset. However, when the sun is rising, the levels drop, supporting the awakening process.

The melatonin hormones are responsible for keeping the circadian rhythm flowing in harmony. When the retina detects light, melatonin production starts to decrease, and wakefulness starts; light wavelength (colour) and intensity are important factors that affect melatonin production. On the other hand, in the absence of light or darkness, the production of melatonin increases, and the body starts preparing for sleep. Changes such as decreases in body temperature and blood pressure are generated when melatonin inhibits the SCN.

The light activates photoreceptor cells in the retina, which signal the SCN via neurons of the retinohypothalamic tract.

How is serotonin involved in the sleep-wake cycle?

Serotonin is another hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle. Serotonin is the key hormone that balances our mood, well being and happiness. It enables the cellular brain and other nervous systems cells to convey messages to each other.

Serotonin is released to signal to the body that it needs to sleep or ‘homeostatic sleep pressure’. Circadian rhythms and homeostatic sleep pressure are necessary for a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

How is cortisol involved in the sleep-wake cycle?

Cortisol is a stress hormone that is an essential component that regulates our sleep and other physiological functions. It is produced by the HPA system, which is the bodies response to chronic stress. Cortisol has a 24-hour rhythm. Usually, around 9 am, cortisol will be at its highest levels for most people.

Cortisol keeps the maintenance of the sleep-wake cycle, as it stimulates wakefulness in the morning and by continuing to support alertness as the day goes by. It is progressive in allowing the internal body rhythms, sleep drive and other chemicals, such as adenosine and melatonin.

Elevated levels of cortisol may be the reason for sleep disruptions such as insomnia and sleep apnea as the 24-hour rhythm is disrupted. It contributes to health problems that collaborate with unhealthy sleep patterns. When cortisol levels are frequently high, and over long periods, it causes health issues; they might be chronic illnesses (high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease) such as:

  • Weight gain.

  • Fatigue.

  • Issues with memory and focus.

  • Increased inflammation and vulnerability to disease.

  • Increase ageing.

  • Digestive problems.

  • Mood disorders, like depression and anxiety sleep-wake issues.

How is histamine involved in the sleep-wake cycle?

The histamine hormones are also very important when talking about the sleep-wake cycle(localised within the hypothalamus), it is released in areas of the central nervous system.

Histamine release is highest during wakefulness. The histaminergic neurons have maximal activity during high vigilance and cease their activity during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

How can you improve your sleep-wake cycle?

You can improve the quality of your sleep-wake cycle by incorporating healthier habits, which can improve your health. If you have insomnia or have any other sleep difficulties, you can follow the suggestions below. However, we suggest you look for medical support, as certain circadian rhythm disorders cannot be managed without medical help.

  • Have a consistent sleep-wake cycle.

  • Expose yourself to sunlight during the daytime.

  • Eat healthily and exercise regularly.

  • Avoid digital devices such as mobile phones that emit blue light waves before bedtime.

  • Be aware of your caffeine intake times.

  • Keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.

Sleep Wake Cycle - Key takeaways

  • Some genes produce proteins that gradually increase throughout the night during sleep, but reduce during the day. These fluctuations activate the sleep-wake cycle.

  • The role of the sleep-wake cycle is to regulate our sleep at night and keep us awake during the day. You can achieve a healthy sleep-wake cycle when the circadian rhythms and homeostatic sleep pressure are synchronised.

  • As the daylight shifts to the dark, melatonin levels rise, making you feel sleepy.

  • Cortisol keeps the maintenance of the sleep-wake cycle, as it stimulates wakefulness in the morning and by continuing to support alertness as the day goes by.

  • Serotonin is also involved in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. However, when melatonin is produced, it suppresses the production of serotonin, which may result in depression.

  • Histamine release is highest during wakefulness.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sleep Wake Cycle

The role of the sleep-wake cycle is to regulate our sleep at night and keep us awake during the day. The sleep-wake cycle has recurring patterns, as the normal cycle oscillates between being awake and asleep in a 24-hour clock. 

The hypothalamus signals the pineal gland in your brain to produce melatonin, which controls your sleep-wake cycle. Your internal biological clock influences the quantity of melatonin that is produced according to exposure to sunlight.

At night, the suprachiasmatic nucleus signals the pineal gland, which triggers the release of melatonin. This makes you feel sleepy and ready for bed.

Circadian rhythms are a internal body clocks inside humans, animals, plants and possibly almost all living cells. These rhythms are responsible for the perception of dark in the night and light during the day. 

The circadian rhythm puts in motion the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle—the suprachiasmatic nucleus communicates to the pineal gland to release melatonin, which promotes sleep. The nucleus is synchronised by external influences known as zeitgebers, of which the strongest is light.

Final Sleep Wake Cycle Quiz

Question

How do the biological clock fluctuations activate the sleep-wake cycle?



Show answer

Answer

The biological clocks are present in every cell, which is synchronised by the (SCN) located in the hypothalamus. During sleep, some genes produce proteins that gradually increase throughout the night, lowering during the day. These fluctuations activate the sleep-wake cycle.

Show question

Question

How long does a sleep-wake cycle last?




Show answer

Answer

The sleep-wake cycle has a recurring pattern that is synchronised with the 24-hour clock during which we spend time being awake and asleep.

Show question

Question

What is the role of the sleep-wake cycle? 



Show answer

Answer

The role of the sleep-wake cycle is to regulate our sleep at night and keep us awake during the day.


Show question

Question

What are the main mechanisms responsible for the sleep cycle?




Show answer

Answer

There are internal biological mechanisms responsible for our sleep cycle: circadian rhythm 

and homeostasis.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Sleep Wake Cycle quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.