Sleep

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Causes of Fatigue Slideshow Pictures
Are you sleep deprived?

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is defined as a reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep. The three types of sleep apnea are central apnea, obstructive apnea, and a mixture of central and obstructive apnea.

  • Central sleep apnea is caused by a failure of the brain to activate the muscles of breathing during sleep.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the collapse of the airway during sleep.
  • The complications of obstructive sleep apnea include high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, automobile accidents, and daytime sleepiness as well as difficulty concentrating, thinking and remembering.

Quick GuideSleep Disorders Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Sleeping Disorders

Sleep Disorders Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Sleeping Disorders

What is sleep?

Physiologically, sleep is a complex process of restoration and renewal for the body. Scientists still do not have a definitive explanation for why humans have a need for sleep. We do know that sleep is not a passive process or "switching off" of body functions; sleep is believed to be important in many physiologic processes including the processing of experiences and the consolidation of memories. It is also clear that sleep is essential, not only for humans but for almost all animals.

The importance of sleep is underscored by the symptoms experienced by those suffering from sleep problems. People suffering from sleep disorders do not get adequate or restorative sleep, and sleep deprivation is associated with a number of both physical and emotional disturbances.

What causes the body to sleep?

Sleep is influenced by the circadian rhythms (regular body changes in mental and physical characteristics that occur in the course of about 24 hours). These are controlled by brain neurons that respond to light, temperature and hormones and other signals and comprise the body's biological clock. This clock helps regulate the "normal" awake and sleep cycles. Disruption of these cycles can make people sleepy, or somnolent, at times people want to be awake. For example, travelers experience "jet lag" when they cross time zones. When a New Yorker arrives in Paris at midnight Paris time, his or her body continues to operate (their biological clock) on New York time. It may take several days to reset a person's biologic clock, depending on how much it has been altered by the time change. Different organ systems in the body recover at different rates.

There is evidence that some aspects of sleep are under genetic influence; a gene termed DEC2 is being investigated as causing people that possess it to require only about 6 hours of sleep. Researchers have only begun to examine the genetics involved in sleep.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/17/2016

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