The functions of sleep

Debate continues about the various theories about sleep, each of which has emphasized physical and psychological restoration and recovery, energy conservation, memory consolidation, discharge of emotions, brain growth, and other various biological functions including maintenance of immune systems. No one theory accounts for all the complexities of sleep and it seems likely that sleep serves multiple purposes. (7)

From the practical point of view, the most obvious observation is that both physical and psychological impairment follows persistent sleep disturbance. Animals totally deprived of sleep for very long periods die with loss of temperature regulation and multiple system failure. As described later, the adverse effects of chronic partial sleep deprivation (considered to be common in modern society) on mood, behaviour, and cognitive function can be substantial with various consequences for personal, social, occupational, and family functioning.

The physiological changes that have been studied in humans following sleep disturbance have been relatively crude (aspects of electroencephalographic, autonomic, biochemical, and endocrine function mainly in relation to experimental sleep loss). Either no change has been observed or the changes have reversed fairly promptly when sleep patterns have returned to normal. The apparently more subtle neurophysiological changes underlying the various neuropsychological deficits and psychiatric disturbance are difficult to define at present.

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