Many people notice that they experience different levels of sleepiness and alertness throughout the day, but what is causing these patterns?
Sleep is regulated by two different body systems: sleep/wake homeostasis and the circadian biological clock.
When a person has been awake for a long period of time, sleep/wake homeostasis can tell us that a need for sleep is accumulating and that it is getting time to sleep. This also helps us get enough sleep throughout the night to make up for the hours of being awake. If this restorative process existed by itself, it would make us most alert as our day started, and that the longer we were awake, the more we would feel like sleeping. In this way, sleep/wake homeostasis creates a drive that balances sleep and wakefulness.
On the other hand, our internal circadian biological clocks regulate the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness during the day. The circadian rhythm goes up and down at different times of the day, so adults’ strongest sleep drive generally occurs between 2:00-4:00 am and in the afternoon between 1:00-3:00 pm, although this does depend on whether you are a “morning person” or “evening person.”
If we had sufficient sleep, the sleepiness we experience during these circadian dips would be less intense and more intense when we are sleep deprived.
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